Islamic community leaders in North Texas want extra police and FBI protection for hundreds of Fort Worth-Dallas Muslims who’ll be attending a conference Saturday on combating Islamophobia after the group received multiple threats involving guns and possibly dynamite.
Muslim leaders in Ohio said they’d reported last Sunday to federal officials that they’d received a call from a man who threatened to destroy a Central Ohio mosque. On Thursday, Duke University in North Carolina canceled plans to allow a Muslim call to prayer from a campus chapel bell tower after receiving threats of violence from anti-Muslim groups.
Last week’s Paris attack happened on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, more than 3,500 miles away, but many in the Muslim community here say they’re feeling the backlash as if it happened in America.
The national Muslim civil rights group, Council on American-Islamic Relations, reports the level of anti-Muslim rhetoric and threats received by its Washington office and more than two dozen national chapters is at its highest since right after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“It’s really going through the roof,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the group’s national communications director. “I mean personally, I’m getting so many hate calls, obscene hate calls. It’s just unbelievable.”
The White House, as well as European leaders, have emphasized that people shouldn’t link their peaceful, law-abiding Muslim neighbors to the terrorists.
“There are some individuals that are using a peaceful religion and grossly distorting it, and trying to use its tenets to inspire people around the globe to carry out acts of violence,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said following the attacks.
Duke University had planned to allow the Muslim call to prayer, called the adhan, as part of efforts to promote religious inclusiveness at the school. But officials reversed plans Thursday after receiving hundreds of emails and calls, including vitriolic threats. The controversy picked up steam Wednesday when evangelist Franklin Graham called on Duke donors and alumni to withhold support for the school until “this policy is reversed.”
The online threats against the Garland, Texas, conference included warnings of violence. Some posters appear to have intimate knowledge of the area.
“I know where Garland is,” said one protester’s Facebook post. “I can be there within 9 (hours) with guns from where I live now, only needing to stop for gas once, (and maybe matches just in case we need dynamite).” The Council on American-Islamic Relations posted screen shots of some of the threats on its website to raise awareness.
Alia Salem, an organizer of the conference, titled “Stand With the Prophet in Honor and Respect,” said in an interview that some community members had decided not to come because of the threats. She said the conference was to discuss how to combat anti-Muslim sentiments. But critics have raised concerns about a controversial speaker, New York-based imam Siraj Wahhaj, who’s been accused of having radical motives.
Police in Garland have stepped up their monitoring of social media following the reported threats. Officer Joe Harn of the Garland Police Department said additional security would be provided for the event but that investigators hadn’t found any signs of a viable threat. Christopher Allen, a spokesman for the FBI, said he couldn’t confirm, deny or discuss any possible ongoing investigation. Allen said any person or organization could report possible civil rights violations or concerns to the FBI.
Hundreds of people have signed up to participate in what’s being described as a peaceful protest against the conference, according to an organizer’s Facebook page. Leader Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a conservative group that opposes Muslim teaching, said that in the wake of the Paris attacks, conference organizers should be working to reform Islam.
“Instead, they’re once again trying to silence foes of jihad terror by charging that ‘Islamophobia’ should be legally restricted,” she wrote in an email. “They’re working for the same goal as that of the Charlie Hebdo attackers – just using different means.”
Salem said the group stood for freedom of speech and welcomed opposing views. She said organizers were working with authorities to set up an appropriate space for all the demonstrators.
“The Muslim community does not stand by any extremism committed in their name or anyone else’s name,” Salem said. “We want the same things as anyone else in this community: to raise our families in safety and security and prosperity.”