Muslim-American communities in the state of Florida are increasingly falling victim to Islamophobic hate crimes and facing anti-Islamic rhetoric and legislation, according to a newly-released report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
One case in point: Florida is home to the Florida Gun Supply in Inverness, which has marketed itself as a “Muslim-free zone” as a response to the 2015 Chattanooga, Tenn. shooting. Another: There have been six documented cases of mosque communities in Florida being targeted, vandalized and attacked from 2013 to 2015, the sixth highest number of such incidents in the nation.
“For the mere fact of people’s religious beliefs, their names, their skin colors and whether they wear something on their head or not, people are being attacked,” Laila Abdelaziz, legislative and government affairs director for CAIR-Florida, said at a news conference announcing the study’s key findings Tuesday. “Their safety is at risk and this causes individual trauma and community trauma… This is a public safety concern.”
CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization and University of California Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender prepared the report, which is titled “Confronting Fear.” The report found that Islamophobia is something of a multimillion dollar industry, with more than $200 million being spent on promoting fear, prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims between 2008 and 2013.
The 80-page report also details the following key findings:
Seventy-four groups—up from 69 in 2013—have either funded or encouraged Islamophobia. These groups include Christian, Zionist, public figures and prominent news organizations.
Anti-Islam bills, namely ones that ban Sharia Law despite there being no threat of it, are law in 10 states, including two in Florida.
In 2015 alone, there were 78 recorded incidents targeting mosques in the United States. This is a significant spike in attacks since records started being tracked in 2009.
Florida and Tennessee are the two states that have passed laws that have changed the way they approve textbooks, after several textbooks were targeted as biased by anti-Muslim groups.
The report further explained how these laws allow textbooks to promote anti-Islam campaigns. CAIR-Florida found that this is leading to an increase in both peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student bullying.
“You have the teachers calling kids ‘Taliban raghead,’” said Abdelaziz. “You have the teachers themselves propelling this xenophobia to very young students, who then become traumatized.”
CAIR-Florida also internally documented a 500 percent increase in hate incidents targeting Muslim-Americans in Florida between 2014 and 2015.
One of those incidents occurred in St. Petersburg in 2015 when Martin Alan Schnitzler of Seminole left a voicemail threat at the Islamic Center of St. Petersburg hours after the Paris terror attacks. Schnitzler identified himself, threatened to firebomb the building and claimed that he didn’t care if there were women, children and elderly people at the mosque.
He was sentenced to a year in federal prison after pleading guilty to the hate crime and for obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs.
“This is the climate that Muslim-Americans are living through today,” said Abdelaziz. “That trauma is an open wound in the community. You have Muslim women taking off their head scarves because they don’t think that it’s safe for them to walk around like that anymore.”
Recently, there has been widespread backlash against Muslims and Islam, especially after the recent mass shooting in Orlando. The upcoming presidential election has also been increasing tension and recoil, given presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the United States and to unconstitutionally profile Muslim-Americans.
The CAIR report suggests combating Islamophobia and anti-Islamic rhetoric by encouraging Muslims to get involved in social justice causes, demonstrate how Islamophobia is a form of prejudice, strengthen the diversity of Islamic voices and inspire Muslims to get involved in policymaking to increase their political power.
It is also essential for policy makers to identify, stop and address legislation that promotes Islamophobia and encourages cycles of violence toward the Muslim-American community, said Abdelaziz.
“Policy makers who want to say that they’re not Islamophobic or xenophobic should look at this report and see how their votes, their actions and the legislation that they debate and propose affect the national narrative and how it aligns with these Islamophobic agendas,” said Abdelaziz. “We need people to speak up and speak out.”