OC Muslims Voice Concerns About Backlash

The West Coast Islamic Society building in Anaheim. (Photo credit: unknown)

The West Coast Islamic Society building in Anaheim. (Photo credit: unknown)

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Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada and FBI investigators working the San Bernardino massacre met with Muslims in Orange County Wednesday to pledge their support in the wake of Islamophobic hate incidents, including an apparently bullet-riddled Quran left on the doorstep of a local business last week.

About 100 community members attended the forum at the Brookhurst Community Center, where audience members raised concerns about their safety and that of their mosques, some of which have received harassing calls and threats – beginning with the Paris shootings orchestrated in November by ISIS and intensifying with the killing of 14 by extremists last week in San Bernardino.

“A lot of our mosques are receiving threats by phone,” said Taher Mutaz of the West Coast Islamic Society during the question and answer period of Wednesday’s meeting. “We’ve prepared ourselves with our own security.”

Similarly, Azeem Syed asked Quezada at the meeting if his Anaheim mosque should arm the guard employed to secure the building. The mosque is visible from the highway and children attend school there, making it an especially vulnerable target, he said.

There are an estimated 170,000 Muslims in Orange County and according to Salatomatic.com, a mosque-finder website, 21 mosques.

Quezada encouraged community members to ask for police help in assessing threats to mosques, saying that some cases might warrant an increase in police patrols. He said it’s important to determine if the threats are vague – “blowing off anger” – or credible and specific enough to raise alarm. At least one Orange County imam was specifically threatened, according to audience members at Wednesday’s meeting.

Concern about anti-Muslim backlash was a theme of the meeting, and not just in response to San Bernardino but also recent comments by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who this week proposed a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S.

“I know you’re hearing a lot in the media and it’s scary to you,” said the assistant director of the FBI’s L.A. office David Bowdich. “You’re in an election season, and people are going to say a lot of bombastic things.”

An investigator on the San Bernardino shooting, Bowditch drew applause when he said, “You are citizens like everyone else…. If there is a backlash, I want to make sure you know we’re here for you.”

FBI relations with the local Muslim community have not always been smooth. In 2006-07, the agency assigned an informant to pose as a Muslim convert at an Irvine mosque.

On Wednesday, however, community members spoke highly of law enforcement at the local level, saying they welcomed the invitation from Quezada to discuss their safety concerns, including the vandalized Quran.

Police told the audience that the Quran, which was left anonymously at the Al-Farah Islamic Clothing store in Anaheim on Dec. 1, is currently in the crime lab being examined for DNA or fingerprints. Officers were unable to find witnesses or video footage showing someone dropping it off.

Shaista Azad of Garden Grove heard about the Quran in her mosque, but “my kids don’t know about it,” she said, glancing at her young children.

“I’m feeling a little on edge,” she added, due to concerns about an anti-Muslim backlash after San Bernardino. No one has threatened her, she said, but “it’s the looks, the reactions, the feedback from my friends — it’s way worse than after Sept. 11.”

Proximity to the shooting has probably heightened reaction in this area, Quezada said.

While the OC Human Relations Commission’s most recent annual report shows just three hate crimes against Muslims in 2014, the Anaheim-based office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations received 215 civil rights-related complaints in Orange County in 2014. Hate incidents and hate speech are more common than hate crimes, though both are largely thought to be underreported.

On Wednesday, police encouraged audience members to report incidents, even if they are expressions of hate rather than crimes, so they can be documented and possibly investigated.

Quezada also encouraged parents to monitor their children’s use of texting and Facebook in an apparent reference to extremist influences such as ISIS that often recruit followers on social media. A video screen at one end of the meeting room silently flashed, “If you see something, say something,” which is the slogan of a national campaign from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to encourage reporting of suspicious, possibly terrorist activity.

Some local Muslims have said in past community meetings that they felt singled out by the emphasis on Islamist radicalization, saying that mass violence is more likely to erupt from white supremacist shooters such as Dylann Roof, who earlier this year slaughtered nine African Americans in a Charleston, S.C. church.

But audience members on Wednesday seemed to welcome Quezada’s comments.

“It’s good to remind people.” said Sabiha Quidwai of Garden Grove

Fasi Javeed said Wednesday’s meeting went well and spoke highly of police: “They were very forthright about what they are doing, and I appreciate that. It’s a partnership.”

Amy DePaul is a Voice of OC contributing writer and lecturer in the University of California, Irvine Literary Journalism program. You can reach her directly at depaula@uci.edu.

  • dc matthews

    All the religious extremists need watching in these crazy times. i was getting coffee and overheard a woman being quire forceful about insisting on Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays for all free Americans. That is UN-Constitutional and awfully selfish for a person claiming Christianity. Micah 4:3-5 “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and
    under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts
    has spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk
    in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.”

    • dc matthews

      Let’s make this a season of peace and working together. We can not paint all with the same brush and believe we could create a true picture.

      • LFOldTimer

        I’m not saying “paint all with the same brush”. I am only asking those of local Muslim faith who are concerned about “backlash” to condemn the acts of those Muslims in San Bernadino. That’s a reasonable request. Particularly since the act has been tied to terrorism by the authorities (as reported by President Obama). Based on my past life experience silence speaks volumes.

    • God is a child molester.

  • kburgoyne

    “How 70,000 Muslim Clerics Are Standing Up To Terrorism”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/muslim-clerics-condemn-terrorism_566adfa1e4b009377b249dea

    “Almost 70,000 Muslim clerics have come together to pass a fatwa against global terrorist organizations, including the Taliban, al Qaeda and the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State.”

    This is but one example of many.

    There is a definite problem with people closing their eyes so they can avoid seeing how Muslims actually are protesting groups like the SELF-PROCLAIMED Islamic State.

    • LFOldTimer

      There’s nothing in this blog about the OC Muslims condemning the acts of the San Bernardino Muslim terrorists who murdered 14 innocents and caused their families great anguish and pain. Once they do that and organize a protest I’ll take their backlash concerns seriously.

      • dc matthews

        I thought the PD investigating said they had no definite motive yet. CAIR has said what they can as soon as they could, and is working with interfaith groups. Even those far off the right lane who want to make trouble have brought these things up in attempts to make all Muslims look bad, but it shows the Muslim community is concerned and working with others. PLEASE POST when you hear the PD or Feds have officially determined the motive.

        • LFOldTimer

          Apparently you don’t pay attention to the news. Even Obama (the Muslim sympathizer) said that the San Bernadino masssacre was believed to be an act of terrorism. So when you catch up come back onto the discussion board and update us, won’t you? 🙂

  • LFOldTimer

    Why don’t the Muslims voice concern about and openly protest other Muslims massacring over a dozen innocent people in cold blood? Once we get past that we can talk backlash. Fair enough?

    • Jacki Livingston

      Well, golly gee whillakers, Gomer! Are the right wing nutter fake Christian tea bagger, Trump loving racists going to take responsibility for everything from Oklahoma City to Sandy Hook to Savannah to Colorado Springs? How is it that if one insane so-called “Christian” commits a vicious mass murder and crime, no one demands that the whole religion whine and beg for public forgiveness, but let one Muslim commit a crime, the entire religion as a whole is expected to somehow be responsible. Thousands of Muslims raised money for the families in SB. Despite what that egomaniac, psycho Trump may think, not all Muslims are interlinked on some party line where they all know what all the others are doing. And, let’s face the facts, so called “Christians” have been responsible for far more murder, carnage, evil, slaughter and genocide in this world than Muslims ever dreamed of. When the TV preachers like Frankie Graham deign to get off their private jets and eliminate the KKK and Teabaggers, two terrorist groups, as well as Westboro Baptist, then, maybe, everyone can expect the entire Muslim faith to get rid of ISIS…which is a joke, given that Bushie is the one who created them with his fake war. Fair is fair, after all.

      • LFOldTimer

        I must have missed it. Did a christian nutjob say that he was massacring people in the name of Jesus? But Islamic terrorists massacre people in the name of their religion and religious diety all the time. That’s a well known fact. In fact, the Muslim terrorist in San Bernadino was quite active in the Muslim faith. So it would be nice for the local Muslims to decry and condemn his actions in order to mitigate any assumed “backlash”. Don’t you think? Just pondering logically here.

        • Jacki Livingston

          Did they have to? Who do you think riles up people like the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooter? White Power! Jesus Lives! The 700 Club! KKK united! These hate mongers have been using Christianity for years, for their slaughter of blacks, Jews, Muslims and others. Of course they do. And then you look at the horrible TV preachers like Graham and Osteen in their Lear jets and Armani suits, and they say and do nothing to condemn it. Christian equals wealth. Use the name of Christ to make yourself obscenely wealthy, getting old people to mail in their Social Security check. Puh-leeze.