The murder of a Tulsa man thought to be Muslim and the dumping of a pig carcass outside a Lawton Islamic center are among the more heinous crimes included in a state Muslim advocacy group’s new civil rights report.
The incidents stand out in Adam Soltani’s mind when he considers the findings of the 2016 report recently released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter (CAIR-OK).
Soltani, the organization’s executive director, said the report compiled by his group’s civil rights department showed a troubling spike in several areas. In Oklahoma, according to the report, there were:
•An increase in complaints involving vandalism or property damage at mosques and Islamic centers;
•An increase in hate crime-related reports that involved violence and/or assault;
•An increase in referrals to immigration services, particularly in the latter half of 2016, as some Oklahoma Muslims had questions or concerns about the Trump Administration’s ban on immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries.
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Soltani and Veronic Laizure, CAIR-OK’s civil rights director, said they attribute the increase in vandalism at Islamic centers and other anti-Muslim incidents to the increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric in society.
In short, Soltani said, “Islamophobia has gone mainstream.”
He said such rhetoric is one of the biggest challenges Muslims currently face.
Soltani said the anti-Muslim rhetoric on the national front, coupled with similar rhetoric among some government leaders in the state has created an atmosphere where anti-Muslim sentiments are more likely to be expressed in a variety of ways.
‘Pinnacle of Islamophobia’
Soltani said he thinks there was “pure hatred” behind an incident in which individuals dumped a pig carcass outside the Islamic Center of Lawton in December 2016.
“It takes a lot of effort. You’ve got to know that Muslims find pork something that is not acceptable to consume. You’ve got to find a pig, you’ve got to kill it or find a dead pig. You’ve got to transport it and then dump it. There’s a lot of steps involved, it’s not a simple thing. So that stands out in my mind as something that comes from purely a place of hate,” he said.
The incident seemed to be an intentional act to strike fear in the small Muslim community in Lawton and to say “you are not welcome here,” Soltani said.
Worse than that, he said, was the “scary” murder of a Tulsa man by a neighbor who thought he was a Muslim.
“I think the pinnacle of Islamophobia and hate crimes was the death of Khalid Jabara in Tulsa, which was perhaps the most horrific act of Islamophobia that I’ve ever seen, in particular because he was not even Muslim,” Soltani said.
Authorities said Stanley Majors fatally shot Jabara, 37, in August 2016 after bombarding him with racial insults as part of a feud with Jabara’s family that lasted several years. Majors faces first-degree murder and hate crime charges in the killing of Jabara, who was his neighbor.
Soltani said the hate crime, so close to home, struck fear in the hearts of many Oklahoma Muslims. He said he is not immune to that emotion himself as he sees the expression of anti-Muslim sentiments seeming to become more common.
“I don’t live in fear. I don’t let it stop me from living my life but I honestly do sometimes have this feeling my life is at risk by doing what I do. Am I safe leaving my house every morning? Am I safe leaving my office?” Soltani said. “But I believe in standing for truth and justice. I believe strongly in standing up for the U.S. Constitution and the ideals that America was founded upon as a country. I use that motivation to overcome my feelings.”
Meanwhile, Soltani and Laizure said there were some positives to report for 2016, including the compilation and distribution of the organization’s first ever Muslim voters’ guide created by Laizure’s civil rights department. Laizure’s department also created guides to Islamic religious practices for employers and educators.
Soltani said Laizure was able to expand and create her department, with college interns, and that expansion was deemed a success.
Laizure said the growth of social justice organizations in Oklahoma and the cooperation among them is also something encouraging for the state.
CONTRIBUTING: The Associated Press