As Muslims across the United States prepare to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan, mosques and other Muslim organizations have been taking measures to prepare for the worst amid growing fears of far-right, white nationalist terrorism.
In the weeks and months leading up to Ramadan, which begins on May 5, Muslim groups have organized active shooter trainings with local police departments across the country from Boston to Hartford to Austin and beyond.
The measures come on the heels of a string of recent deadly attacks on places of worship in the U.S. and abroad, including the March 15 attack on Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, the Easter Sunday bombings targeting Christians in Sri Lanka, and Saturday’s shooting at a synagogue in San Diego, California.
The perpetrators in Christchurch and San Diego – as well as the man responsible for the October attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue – were motivated by white nationalist extremism, an ideology that vilifies Jews and Muslims alike.
“There’s a real threat. There’s real reason to be concerned,” Arsalan Bukhari, a spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Globe Post.
In addition to active shooter drills, Bukhari said mosques around the country have been taking additional security measures and have reached out to law enforcement for advice on how to best keep people safe. He said CAIR even recently organized a webinar for community leaders with the Department of Homeland Security.
Since 2000, the majority of terrorist attacks on American soil have been committed by far-right extremists. These attacks have surged in recent years, and have generally correlated with a rise of far-right populism and xenophobia around the globe.
“It’s very clear that hate speech leads to hate violence,” Bukhari said. “A lot of the rhetorical attacks on American Muslims by leading politicians have played a role in inciting violence and discrimination.”
"If this were ISIS or MS-13, we'd be having a very different conversation..we'd be talking about drone strikes..more deportations, more money for ICE..but it's white nationalists so all you got from Trump is 'thoughts and prayers'..no anger or outrage" – me on @MSNBC last night: pic.twitter.com/vwPnewEzNg
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) April 30, 2019
Bukhari criticized media personalities who have chosen to use their platforms to spread fear and promote divisiveness. But he also said that President Donald Trump should be held accountable for his role in inciting hate.
“The person with the highest office in the land is using his platform to divide us,” Bukhari said. “His commentary has been very damaging.”
As a candidate, Trump called for a “complete and total” ban on Muslims entering the United States and repeatedly evoked his widely discredited claim that he saw “thousands” of Muslims celebrating 9/11.
Last week, the president doubled-down on his infamous comment that there were “very fine people” among the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, brandishing torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
The rally ultimately left one person dead after one of the white nationalist demonstrators rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
In April, Trump was accused of inciting violence against Rep. Ilhan Omar – one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress – after he shared a video on Twitter juxtaposing a video of her with images of 9/11.
Describing the persistent discrimination faced by Muslim Americans, Omar had referred to 9/11 in passing as “some people did something,” leading some Republicans to accuse her of downplaying the attacks – a claim Omar strongly denies.
“[Trump’s video] takes one sentence, replays it, and cuts it with really traumatic imagery of an event that’s in our collective memory, which was wrong and exploited people’s emotions,” Bukhari said, adding the president’s attacks “endanger her life.”
Trump’s video came just over a month after Republicans in West Virginia displayed a poster in the State House with Omar’s picture next to an image of the World Trade Center being attacked.
But even as Muslim groups are taking steps to ramp up security at their places of worship, Bukhari stressed that they are not trying to close their doors to the rest of their communities.
Mosques are open to everyone, he said, and CAIR has encouraged those celebrating Ramadan to invite their Non-Muslim neighbors, friends, and co-workers in for meals.
“Ramadan is really an opportunity for mosques and everyday people to open their doors and build relationships and build friendships,” he said, hoping that dialogue can promote the idea that “we all belong here, we’re all Americans, we’re all united.”