The Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling for stepped up security measures after a hate-filled letter arrived at the New Haven Islamic Center.
The letter called Muslims "vile and filthy people" whose "day of reckoning" has come. It vowed that President-elect Donald Trump will "do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews."
An identical handwritten letter signed by "Americans For A Better Way" has been sent to mosques in California, Georgia, Florida, and Rhode Island.
To learn more about this, and the uptick in hate, harassment, and bullying incidents against Muslims, WNPR spoke with Mongi Dhaouadi, CAIR's executive director in Connecticut. He said the targeted mosque has been in existence for decades.
Mongi Dhaouadi: It's been a very prominent place. It's always crowded. A lot of people attend the Friday sermon, the Saturday and Sunday schools.
This is a very nasty letter in its language and its format, the way it couched all this hate targeted at Muslims in patriotism, speaking about a "new sheriff in town," meaning the President-elect Trump. This is very concerning, to say the least.
WNPR's Diane Orson: How did the mosque react?
The leadership wasn’t sure what to do with this until we talked. We met with them and we said, "This is serious. This is something that you need to alert the local police on this."
After consulting with some of the civil rights lawyers here in Connecticut, who also found out that it actually -- even [if] it doesn’t rise to the "direct threat," but it rises to the level of "intimidation based on religion" -- and that is a crime in the state of Connecticut.
And so, this is something that we have seen time and time again where leadership or members of a mosque are subjected to hate incidents or hate crimes, yet they do not want to report it for various reasons. Some of them think that if they report it, it's not going to be taken seriously. Some of them, they don’t have confidence in the system, that they will actually do something about it.
Others feel that, well, I don’t want to be portrayed in the media as an ungrateful minority. That I’m a recent Muslim immigrant -- why should I complain about somebody who says a nasty thing to me when America opened its doors to me and gave me a chance? And so all these reasons make it difficult for us, CAIR, to track many of these hate incidents and hate crimes.
How is CAIR advising those who are the targets of this kind of behavior, to respond?
I mean, especially something like this letter – when it's a threat directed in vile language at the community, we immediately ask the leadership to contact [the] local police force. And we tell them, "You need to be in contact with them, especially in this kind of environment -- so, you get to know one another. They get to know you. You build that confidence in your local police."
I think, for example, the Hartford Police Department does a great job in staying in touch with the leaders in our community. And that makes it easy, so they can come forward and talk about it.
The other thing is we tell them that you need to first of all, address the security issues in your community. We have a toolkit that CAIR makes available to our community that addresses -- from simple steps of: look at the lights outside in the parking lot, to the procedures of locking and opening the doors, talking about safety of members of our community, especially the ones who are visibly Muslim -- meaning some of our sisters [who] wear the head scarf.
Sometimes they find themselves a target of these hate incidents. And so we tell them to be careful, to be smart about how they do. We hold, sometimes, workshops with even some security experts.
And also it's important that we educate the public that this is happening. Even in a state where we pride ourselves in Connecticut to be welcoming, diverse. Our political leadership, whether it’s Republican, Democrats, they are welcoming. They are open. They defend our community, stand up to its rights. But we tell them, even in a state like this, ugly things can happen.
And the incident of the Meriden mosque that was shot less than a year ago reminds us that if we do not take this seriously, bad things could happen and people could get hurt.