Mosques across America have been warned to implement “best practices” for preventing arson as the Islamic community prepares for the month of Ramadan, which begins the last week of May.
“American Muslims should never be afraid to worship or attend their mosque,” said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates. “But we know we have to look out for the safety and security of our community, now more than ever.”
Ahussain pointed to five mosque fires reported this year – in Austin, Texas, Victoria, Texas, Bellevue, Wash., Tampa, Fla., and Pittsfield Township, Mich. – as his group’s motivation for the arson warning.
The arson warning came from Muslim Advocates as the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a report showing a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents in 2016 over the previous year.
The “Empowerment of Hate” report also said the spike in anti-Muslim incidents was accompanied by a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes during the same period.
U.S. attorneys said in late April they expected a grand jury to hand down an indictment against Marq Vincent Perez, 25, the man suspected of starting a fire that burned a mosque in Victoria, Texas, to the ground in January.
“A mosque in a Muslim community … it’s literally the heart of our community,” Fiona Tagari, a member of a mosque in nearby Corpus Christi, Texas, told USA Today. “A lot of us are immigrants. We don’t have families here, so it’s where we make our families. Congregants become extended families.”
A 16-year-old boy was charged with starting a fire that destroyed a mosque in Pittsfield Township, Mich., in March. However, local police do not consider that to be a case of arson.
A fire in February that damaged a prayer hall at a Tampa-area mosque was ruled to be a case of arson. Local and federal authorities have not determined yet if it was a hate crime.
“Their (Islamic community members’) fear is that it’s hate-related, but it’s too early to say if it is or isn’t,” CNN reported Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a news conference outside the mosque.
Rasha Mubarak, a regional supervisor for CAIR-Florida, urged local, state and national officials to take a stand. Otherwise, she said, “It can give the green light to harm others.”
“It is worrisome that our community has fallen victim of what appears to be another hate crime,” said Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida.
A homeless man started a January fire that destroyed half of a wood-framed mosque in Bellevue, Wash.
The Seattle Times reported Isaac Wayne Wilson, 37, who had been arrested at least 50 other times and was convicted of three felonies and 21 misdemeanors before his latest arrest, confessed to starting the January fire and was charged with second-degree arson.
As in the Michigan mosque fire, police and fire investigators ruled that the Bellevue mosque fire was not a hate crime. They said Wilson was just looking to start a fire. And the Times reported Wilson never voted for Donald Trump.
Still, the author of the Empowerment of Hate report, Corey Saylor, said the Trump administration should shoulder at least part of the blame for anti-Muslim hate crimes.
“It is time for the Trump administration to seriously address the growing anti-minority sentiment in our nation, prompted at least in part by his toxic campaign rhetoric, the appointment of Islamophobes to policy-making posts and the introduction of Islamophobic policies such as the ‘Muslim ban,’” said Saylor, who is the director of CAIR’s Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia.
Saylor also told Fox News his organization has documented an increase in those reports since Trump won the election.
“Across the board, we have tracked a spike in hate crimes,” Saylor said. “The week after the election, we tracked 111 separate incidents that were bias incidents targeting Muslims.”
Saylor admitted that, while he was confident they would only constitute a small percentage of the total report, some of those hate-crime reports could be frauds.
It has happened before.
An 18-year-old Muslim woman who claimed men attacked her on a New York subway in December and tried to pull off her hijab was later charged with filing a false police report.
An Indian-owned store in North Carolina was set on fire and a rock thrown through its window proclaiming “We need to get rid of Muslims, Indians and all immigrants.” It was signed, “White America.”
Actually it was signed, and thrown, and the fire started, by an African-American man, Curtis Floury, 32.
Park Dietz, a forensic psychologist, told Fox News no one should be surprised to learn some hate-crime reports are fantasies.
“There is a large number of (fake hate-crime) cases,” Dietz said, “certainly dozens or hundreds a year and have been for at least the past 30 years.”