In the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, as rumors circulated that the deadly blast was the handiwork of Middle Eastern terrorists, Muslim Oklahomans were targets of anti-Muslim bigotry.
Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Musuem shared this recollection as she welcomed people to “Impact of Islamophobia in the Work of Nonprofits,” a workshop held Wednesday at the national memorial and museum in downtown Oklahoma City.
About 55 metro residents and nonprofit leaders attended the event hosted by the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits in partnership with the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter (CAIR-OK).
Watkins and Daniel Billingsley, with the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, said the workshop was intended to raise awareness about “Islamophobia” and other hate speech because of the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric after the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Fla.
“If you go back 21 years ago, you’ll remember people thought the perpetrators of this crime (bombing) were Muslim. That’s one of the things we all wish we could take back. We don’t want to go back 21 years. We want to move forward in unity.”
Billingsley, the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits’ vice president of external affairs, agreed, saying the timing for the workshop was critical because ‘Islamophobia chatter had reared its ugly head.”
“These issues are large and they’re complex. They start with Islamophobia but they move into other types of xenophobia and bigotry and hate speech against all sorts of disenfranchised groups,” he said.
Adam Soltani, executive director of CAIR-OK, and Veronica Laizure, CAIR-OK’s civil rights director, said anti-Muslim sentiments and rhetoric is increasing yet about 40 percent of Americans have said they don’t actually know a Muslim individual.
Soltani told the group that they could help counter anti-Muslim bias by developing friendships with Muslims and visiting a local mosque. He also recommended that attendees speak out when they hear or see anti-Muslim rhetoric, whether in person or through a media outlet.
“Keep in mind that terrorism has no religion,” he said.
Soltani urged attendees to contact their elected leaders.
“Let them know you don’t support the use of their platform for bigotry,” he said.
Ginny Bass Carl, senior director of development with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, said she wasn’t surprised to see six people from her office at Wednesday’s workshop because the foundation includes people from 32 countries.
“I’m in fundraising and we have a saying that ‘It’s all about relationships,'” she said.
“The center is really great about drawing on our commonalities and building collaboration rather than focusing on differences and sliding backwards.”