Manggala: Mosque defenders look to protect Oregon Muslims in an atmosphere of fear

Defenders have been adding security to the local mosque after the mosque was threatened earlier in May. The recent stabbing in Portland has led Muslims to feel fearful within the community. (Billy Manggala/Emerald)

Outside of the Eugene Islamic Center, a group of people from the Eugene community stand outside the mosque as people pray inside. When prayer is over, the worshippers speak with the group, offer them food and shake their hands. It’s a genuine and cordial encounter between different communities; it’s the kind of meeting that makes for a good society.

But the reason the group is there relates to fear: recently, hatred has struck the Muslim community in Eugene.

On May 10, a man armed with a knife stood in front of the Eugene Islamic Center and threatened to kill its members right after they had finished prayer. The man was later identified and charged with menacing, disorderly conduct and intimidation based on religion.

Although the man may be gone, his hateful intentions stay with the worshippers and hurt the spirit of the mosque.

“Recently, our people are stressed,” said Haytham Abo Adel, an Imam at the Eugene Islamic Center. “A lot of anti-Muslim hate is happening. It’s just been very stressful.”

A mosque is everything to the Muslim community. It’s a sanctuary, a place to feel close to God and find peace of mind. It’s also a place for friends old and new to meet and chat. It’s a second home to many Muslims — and a first home for others. Everyone deserves the right to feel safe in their home, but when the mosque becomes a target of hatred, that feeling of security immediately disappears.

Members of the Eugene Islamic Center have been cautious since the incident, even starting a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $18,000 for security and maintenance improvements. But until the goal is reached, the mosque cannot upgrade to sufficient surveillance.

A group of people — members of Lane County Defense Network, UO and the Eugene community — recognized the mosque’s need for protection and coordinated a community watch group that defends the center from any outside threats.

“Injustice thrives when no one says anything. There is a silent majority, and it’s on the side of justice and equality,” said Alex Iskandar, the Eugene Islamic Center’s community watch organizer. “If that voice is heard loudly and consistently, then those voices of hate and bigotry can be silenced.”

During prayer times, the group will stand in front of the mosque and surveil the premises. At other times they will sit, relax and converse but still face the street for any oncoming visitors.

What the group is doing is representative of a good society: communities coming together to stand up for one another. It’s what we want when there is potential danger — other people to comfort us and fight hate in solidarity.

But as the year goes by, hate incidents are becoming scarier and more frequent, with a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents compared to last year and a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. This is troubling for many reasons, but the idea that hatred is only getting worse in our society makes it frightening for a Muslim to feel comfortable in this country.

We ask ourselves: Can I pray on the sidewalk if I have to? Will I be safe wearing a hijab today? Do people want me dead solely for my faith?

In the face of injustice, communities must work to protect each other from discrimination. We have to commit to combatting bigotry and violence. Hatred only wins if we are silent.

Much of the media wants us to believe that the biggest threat to America comes from Muslim countries, but recently Americans have been the biggest threat to America. According to a report from Congress by the Government Accountability Office, far right-wing extremists were responsible for 73 percent of extreme fatal incidents since Sept. 12, 2001, while Islamic extremists were responsible for 27 percent of incidents. Violent, extreme incidents are happening — just not from who we think.

On the eve of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, two men were killed while defending one Muslim woman and one African-American woman from racial slurs and hate speech by a white extremist. A third victim was also stabbed but is expected to survive.

This hurts. Not only does it hurt the people affected, it hurts our communities and frankly the psyche of our country. America is supposed to be a country that accepts all religions, races and sexes, but the growing number of hate crimes against minorities makes it clear that fear and bigotry still plague the nation.

We are always taught to stand up for what is right. We were taught to take a stand against injustice because that’s what good people do.

But at what cost? The life of a father of four? The life of a son and a sister?

We want to help people, and we want to beat the bullies and show that hate is not welcome. But nobody expects to lose their lives. And it’s reasonable to believe that society will be more hesitant to stand up to injustice after the attacks last Friday.

Is it worth standing up to hate if it means risking your life?

“After what happened in Portland, [the community watch] is more committed than ever,” Iskandar said.  “We are committed to an inclusive and loving community, and if that means putting ourselves in a little bit of risk, then we’ll do it.”

The victims in Portland died because they believed in basic human rights. The attacks should be a reminder that hate can have horrifying consequences. In the face of injustice, communities must work to protect each other from discrimination. We have to commit to combatting bigotry and violence. Hatred only wins if we are silent.

“We fight hate with love, we fight hate with peace and we fight hate with awareness,” Abo Adel said.




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