Tampa, FL: Muslim leaders in western Florida are concerned they might be seeing a backlash from last week’s attacks at Fort Hood.
On Nov. 9, a Marine reservist attacked a Greek Orthodox priest who was visiting Tampa from Crete because he thought the clergyman was a Muslim “terrorist.”
According to the police report, the priest followed the reservist into a parking garage to ask for directions. The reservist hit the priest with a tire iron, and called 911 to report a “terrorist” had attacked him after shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” "God is great" in Arabic. The priest does not speak Arabic.
The reservist’s attorney countered that the priest had followed his client into the garage to sexually assault him. Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy disputed that, telling reporters that Bruce did not mention a sexual attack when he called 911, and later changed his story several times.
The Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for hate crime charges to be filed. The council noted that the visiting priest had a long beard and was wearing a black clerical robe at the time of the attack, customary dress for Greek Orthodox clergy.
The reservist “perceived the guy to be Arab or a Muslim terrorist and he said that to police, and he attacked him,” Ahmed Bedier, president of the Tampa Human Rights Council told the Associated Press. “The guy grabbed the iron rod and hit him twice on the right and once on the left.” The police report added that the attacker followed the priest out of the garage and struck him again after he fell.
Muslim organizations nationwide are on high alert following the Fort Hood tragedy. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security held a Nov. 5 conference call between national security organizations and Muslim, Arab and South Asian groups to discuss strategies for ensuring the safety of those populations.
Some of the participating organizations are releasing guidelines to help Muslims and Arabs ward off hate violence. The San Francisco-based Islamic Networks Group recently posted their guide to preventing hate crimes and reporting harassment.
If the Tampa attack was indeed inspired by the Fort Hood tragedy, it underscores the need to get out the word that ethnic and faith communities are not responsible for the crimes committed by individuals. But “guilt by association” too often occurs. Since 9/11, Arabs, Muslims, and those who “look” Arab or Muslim have felt the sting of backlash, from law enforcement and the public. It is up to the rest of us to stand up and say, we won’t allow it.
Here are two videos of communities who have taken action in response to anti-immigrant violence.
Do you have a story to share of people standing up to such hate and stereotyping? How has your organization, school or house of worship supported Arabs, Muslims or Southeast Asians in your community?