Commentary by Hasan Zillur Rahim in San Jose
The pickup truck was following her. Dr. Sarah felt nervous but tried to convince herself it was just her imagination. He couldn’t possible know she was a Muslim, particularly since she was not wearing the optional hijab, the traditional Islamic head-cover to indicate modesty.
She pulled into the parking lot and got out of her car. The pickup slowed. As she crossed the street to get to her office, the driver, a middle-aged white man, rolled down the window and screamed at her: “Go back home!”
The heat of the man’s hate felt as if it were burning a hole in the back of her head. She ran to the safety of her hospital.
Dr. Sarah was born in Chicago to Muslim parents. After receiving a doctorate in psychology, she began working at a hospital in Silicon Valley in the pain management department as a psychologist, a job in which she has flourished for over a decade. When she reported the incident to her concerned supervisor, she advised her not to drive alone for a few weeks.
A week earlier, an engineer of Asian background, an American citizen, was confronted in the parking lot of a grocery store in San Jose by a driver who screamed: “Go back to where you came from.”
For many residents, the sprouting of bigotry in what is the heart of Silicon Valley, with a diversity of culture, religion and ethnicity rare in the world, is shocking.
“Before, I used to call my friends and relatives in India to ask if they were okay,” said Assemblyman Ash Kalra during a rally organized in response to the growing climate of fear following the election. “Now they call me to inquire if I am safe in Trump’s America!”
Trump has indeed loosened the shackles of bigotry among his supporters, emboldening them to threaten those who don’t look like them, and to hurl insults like, “Go back to where you came from!”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported harassment and threats targeting Muslim women and children in Minnesota, North Carolina, New York and California in just the past two weeks alone.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 hate incidents in the ten days after Trump’s win in November. The advocacy group South Asians Leading Together (SAALT) put out a report in January that documented 207 hate incidents targeting South Asians, Muslims and Middle Easterners in 2016. The report noted the climate resembled the months following the 9/11 attacks, and attributed the spike in hate to campaign rhetoric during the 2016 race.
Here in San Jose, police documeted four cases of crimes targeting Muslims in 2016. There were no cases prior in the years going back to 2011. Experts say the numbers are misleading, and that because victms are often reluctant to come forward, due to cultural or linguistic barriers, or because they are scared, the figures could be higher.
One of those cases involved the Evergreen Islamic Center, where a letter was received just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday that read, in part: “There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He is going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And he’s going to start with you Muslims.” The letter went on to make reference to Nazi Germany, saying Trump would “do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”
Still, despite the rising tide of Islamophobia, something remarkable began to happen among members of the local Muslim community in the days and weeks following Trump’s win. Having learned in the aftermath of 9/11 that a culture of shame and silence only promoted the politics of fear, area Muslims instead started forging bonds with community residents at a grass-roots level.
Several members of Evergreen (myself included) joined “Indivisible East San Jose,” one of nearly 6,000 ‘Indivisible’ groups that sprang up across the nation as a response and resistance to Trump’s presidency.
Meeting once every month, members knock on doors in San Jose’s depressed areas, informing undocumented workers, for example, of their rights if ICE shows up and the availability of free legal help. A few families in dire straits have been escorted to sanctuaries in synagogues and churches.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Evergreen teamed up with local Christians and Jews as members of “Abrahamic Alliance” at a church to prepare meals for the homeless. For most, this was their first experience with a soup kitchen. Many were shocked to find that in one of the most prosperous areas in the world, there were people for whom a decent meal and a bed to sleep on are luxuries often beyond reach.
As remarkable is the growing outreach and solidarity extended to area Muslims from other immigrant communities. There have been several marches staged to commemorate the Japanese internment and to draw connections between that dark period in U.S. history and its echo against Muslims in Trump’s time. Meetings were held with Internment survivors who spoke of the importance of resistance.
Then there are the acts of individual kindness.
“Just think about it,” said Peggy, who drove an hour from the city of Santa Cruz with several friends in a show of solidarity with Evergreen following the recent threats. “Would we have even met if it were not for Trump? No! This is the silver lining in the dark cloud that hangs over our nation now.”
For local Muslims, the bridges now being formed in the era of Trump are a case of serendipity, the unintended but cathartic consequences of hate.
Hasan Zillur Rahim wrote this story with support from New America Media’s Tracking Hate Fellowship program. Rahim is a professor of mathematics at San Jose City College and the Outreach Director of the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose.
Republished in partnership with New America Media.
Commentary by Anita Bromberg in Toronto
Sixty-seven years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 50 years after the adoption of the two Covenants, which along with the Declaration became known as the International Bill of Human Rights, the struggle for human rights at home and abroad continues.
It is a struggle that Canadians have been at the forefront of since World War II. Canadian John Peters Humphrey, first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, was central to the drafting of the Declaration.
The underlying principle of the Declaration – that human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights – is reflected in section 15(1) of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, will kick off an international yearlong campaign spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office: Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.
The campaign will focus on the four freedoms at the core of the Declaration – freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want. We do not have to dig deep into media reports to see that even in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms.
Impacts of fear
When then American President Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms speech after experiencing two world wars, the arms race was the focus of his remarks regarding freedom from fear. Today, freedom from fear means much more and the challenges are even greater.
Fear has dominated our mindset these days. Violence and terrorism is now an ongoing reality that directly impacts Canadians. How can we not be concerned for, even feel fear for, our safety, with attacks such as the Californian and French events fresh on our minds?
But this fear impacts in two ways. The obvious is that we each have the right to go about our daily business without fearing a terrorist attack harming our loved ones. But, in addition, no individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear.
The sign on the lawn that tells Canadian Muslims or Jews to go home, the hijab-wearing woman buying groceries who is accused of being a terrorist, the hateful graffiti on Hindu places of worship, the racism directed at Aboriginal peoples – these are all examples of breaches of every person’s right to be free from fear.
Fear used to marshal hatred
As we mark this milestone date, the Secretary General of the United Nations reminds us, “Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are a tragic product of the failure to fulfil this freedom [from fear]. Not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their home.”
Our response as Canadians must be to open our doors without discrimination, while exercising all due diligence, as we commit ourselves to continue to build a society based on inclusion and founded on the principles of human dignity and mutual respect.
Hatemongers know that the best way to marshal hatred is to channel it through fear, to manipulate fear to racist ends – often justified through an appeal to narrowly defined identities and collective fears of being overwhelmed.
We are all deeply troubled by the threats to our security and by the impact the violence we are witnessing is having. We should be looking to protect our society and way of life based on our common humanity.
However, that will come with guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of all, when we respect the balance these rights and freedoms demand from each of us. Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.
These are the lessons embedded in this year’s International Human Rights Day.
Canada and its residents must be ready for the challenges ahead. Respecting our rights and freedoms can and must be one of the key principles that guide us all as the year ahead unfolds.
Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams lashed out at Stephen Harper in a recent interview with CBC News, calling some of Harper’s political tactics as borderline racist. Williams called on those who can’t follow their political leanings, and are unwilling to vote for the Liberals [...]
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TORONTO: In what is considered a hate crime, two Muslim students from Egypt who were returning after Ramadan prayers were assaulted by a group of people in Hamilton near here on Thursday.
The victims, Moustafa Elgamal and Mahmoud Elgamal, are students at McMaster University. They are also twin brothers.
The two brothers were attacked when they were returning on their bikes after afternoon Ramadan prayers at a mosque in downtown Hamilton.
One of the victims said that a group of about 10 people started yelling at them and then three of them assaulted them.
Mahmoud Elgamal told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that the attackers pushed them off their bikes and started punching them.
He said his brother was knocked unconscious and he held the attackers off for some time because of his karate skills.
News East West
Incidents of hate crimes are increasing in Canada and members of the Black and Jewish communities are most likely to be victims of the hate, according to a study by Statistics Canada.
The Share News
ONTARIO’S Peel Regional Police announced on Thursday that after a thorough investigation and following consultation with the Peel Crown Attorney’s Office and the Ontario Crown Law Office, they have determined that the content of the flyers distributed in Brampton by members of an organization called Immigration Watch Canada do not meet the Criminal Code […]
On September 20th, the Ottawa Muslim Association in partnership with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) hosted an information night and panel discussion on the subject of Hate Crimes.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit