— -- The U.S. is experiencing a spike in anti-Muslim crimes and mosques are one of the prime targets, according to civil rights activists within the Muslim American community.
Fifty-five mosques in the U.S. have been targeted so far this year, making 2016 one of the worst years on record for anti-mosque incidents, according to new report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy organization. In 2015, there were 79 recorded incidents, the highest number reported in a single year since experts began tracking the data in 2009, according to CAIR. In 2009, 13 mosques reported incidents.
“American Muslims in the U.S. are very worried about their safety, the safety of their families, the safety of their institutions, and they don’t feel that they’re safe to go out,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR.
Three mosques were targeted this month, all of them occurring on or around the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The mosque once attended by Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was intentionally set on fire by an arsonist in Fort Pierce, Florida, according to police. Rocks were thrown through the windows of a mosque in New Hampshire. And last week, a tractor trailer was twice rammed into an Islamic community center in Laurel, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore.
In July, 14 mosques were targeted, up from 10 in June. CAIR attributes these spikes to the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida. The majority of the incidents in 2016 have been violent in tone, characterized by intimidation, physical assault, and vandalism, according to CAIR.
“No one feels that they’re safe regardless of where they live, whether it’s New York or Minnesota or in Washington, D.C., in suburbs or in isolated towns," Awad said.
Whether the recent uptick of Islamophobic crimes is related to 9/11, or to anti-Muslim political rhetoric championed by some members of the Republican Party, or a bit of both, is still unclear.
But Awad says it’s “all of the above” including “Donald Trump and his surrogates who have been taking cheap shots at the Muslim community.”
“We’re trying to understand why Trump is targeting the Muslim community," he said. "One simple conclusion is he's appealing to people who are anxious, people who are angry, and uncertain about their future."
"Donald Trump is using fear, is exploiting fear, is promoting and selling fear. And fear sells, unfortunately, in times of tension," he added, pointing to Trump's immigration, terrorism and national security policies of "dividing America."
The FBI backs CAIR's data. In a 2015 hate crime statistics report, 16.1 percent of 1,140 religious hate crime victims were Muslim, up from previous years, despite the fact that overall hate crime numbers among other religious groups were declining, the FBI said.
Awad argues that these incidents show that "the constitution is being threatened."
"Not many people see it that way but minorities, including American Muslims, see it very clearly," he said.
In recent days, reports of a Muslim marine who was called a “terrorist” and thrown in an industrial dryer at a South Carolina boot camp have also come to light. The incident, which occurred in 2015, happened just months before the suicide of another Muslim marine who was reportedly hazed and physically abused at the same boot camp.
Earlier this week, a Muslim Stanford student was attacked on social media for wearing a headscarf, or hijab.
But despite this perceived intensity of recent attacks, Muslims are a vital part of the American community, Awad said.
“I think people are becoming acquainted with the American Muslim community and they have seen how courageous American Muslims have been in fighting extremism,” Awad said.
“American Muslims were also among the victims of 9/11, and American Muslims were among the first responders. American Muslims serve in the U.S. Army. American Muslims have fallen for this country. The human face is becoming known to more Americans," he said.
Of the 2,996 Americans who were killed on Sept. 11, 2001, 60 were Muslim American.
“We need to see more political leaders standing for what’s right, and show the courage and the decency to push back against the hate speech and hate acts regardless of the identity of the community because we're all Americans and we all deserve equal protections and equal respect,” Awad said.