Fighting Intolerance

Diverse group speaks out against a recent spike in Islamophobia

click to enlarge UC pre-med student Haneen Jasim (center) says a motorist swerved at her and called her a terrorist as she crossed the street in Clifton Heights Nov. 16.
UC pre-med student Haneen Jasim (center) says a motorist swerved at her and called her a terrorist as she crossed the street in Clifton Heights Nov. 16.


recent rally against Islamophobia at the University of Cincinnati followed the same route a UC pre-med student was walking just two weeks prior, when she says she was a victim of Islamophobia.

The event, which began outside the Starbucks on University Square in Clifton Heights, traveled past the intersection of Calhoun Street and Clifton Avenue, where Haneen Jasim says she was crossing the street the night of Nov. 16 when a driver swerved at her, nearly hitting her, while cursing and yelling “terrorist.”

The incident has drawn attention to local pushback against the Muslim community in the wake of recent international terrorist attacks. On Dec. 4, around 50 students, professors, community members and leaders of multiple faiths marched from the Starbucks to the UC campus to condemn the recent spike in Islamophobia — defined as prejudice against Islam or Muslims, particularly as a political force — in Cincinnati.

“We are not terrorists,” Jasim said. “Islam does not define ISIS. ISIS is not Islam. So I’m here to tell you to do something about it.”

Ten speakers, including Muslim, Jewish and Christian faith leaders, all denounced the connection many have made between violence, national security and Muslims.

Rabbi Abie Ingber, founder of the Office of Interfaith Community Engagement at Xavier University, called upon all faith groups to condemn violence in the name of religion.

“We don’t come together today to moan that the murderers were Muslim, we come together to say that murder is not Islam, nor is it Christianity, nor is it Judaism, nor is it Hinduism or any other faith community, and yet some people take the names of our religions in vain,” Ingber said.

Brianne Cain, a UC sociology student who grew up in Clifton, set up the rally after hearing about Jasim’s incident. Cain says after she realized no event was planned in support of the Muslim community, she reached out to Jasim and received the support of UC’s Muslim Student Alliance, Secular Student Alliance and Racial Awareness Program to help plan it.

“I’ve grown up with this sense that Clifton is this liberal bubble in Cincinnati, and any time anything happens that doesn’t fit within that narrative, it really hits close to home for me,” Cain said. “I love this community and I love being a part of it.”

Islamophobia has spiked since the attacks in Paris by ISIS militants claiming to have acted in the name of Islam that left 130 dead. According to a Nov. 24 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights group, the 10 days following the attacks resulted 24 reported incidents of intimidation, threats and violence against Muslims in the U.S., the highest spike since 9/11.

The CAIR report cites two incidents that took place in Cincinnati. One was Jasmin’s, and the other took place on Nov. 15 in the parking lot of a Kroger in Hyde Park. A woman reported that an older couple yelled insults at her as she checked out and then followed her to her car and pulled on her headscarf to get her attention.

Karen Dabdoub, executive director of the Cincinnati chapter of CAIR, said hate crimes against Muslims, and even those who are mistaken for being Muslim, are on the rise in Cincinnati since the attacks in Paris and the Dec. 2 mass shooting by Islamic radicals that left 14 dead at a social service center in San Bernardino, Calif.

“We’ve had cab drivers stabbed. We’ve had Haneen almost get run over. We’ve never had anything like that in Cincinnati before,” Dabdoub said.    


Dabdoub also said the upcoming presidential election might be contributing to the spike in Islamophobia.

“We all think that it’s all about what happened in Paris this time or what just happened in California,” she said, “but the statistics show us that the big spikes in Islamophobia after 9/11 have been run ups to presidential elections.”

With less than a year left until the next presidential election, the topic of Muslim extremists in the U.S. has been a main point of debate for presidential contenders, especially Republicans.

Donald Trump, who currently leads the polls for the GOP nomination, last month received strong backlash for suggesting in that he would not rule out registering Muslims in a database or issuing them a special ID indicating their religion. More recently, Trump has suggested restricting Muslims from entering the country entirely.

“Some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said in a Nov. 19 Yahoo News interview.

Iraqi-American comedian and civil engineer Abdallah Jasmin said several people recently yelled anti-Islamic insults at his mother as she boarded a Greyhound bus from Detroit to Cincinnati. He pointed out that women who wear hijabs, like his mother, Jasim and the woman at the Hyde Park Kroger, are already easily identifiable and face more risks of being targeted than men.

“I don’t look Muslim,” Jasmin said at the rally. “But they do look Muslim — they have the scarf. They have the hijab. This is something that all women realize, that they’re going to be the targets. It›s not the men.”

Amina Darwish, a Muslim chaplain for UC Campus Ministries, poked fun at Trump’s suggestion that she would need a special ID, also saying her hijab made her faith obvious.

“Do you want me to wear it on my head? Do you see this?” she said, pointing to her headscarf.

But the Washington, D.C. native and UC graduate grew emotional when she spoke about how the Muslim community lives in fear from all sides — Islamophobists, U.S. authorities and members of ISIS, who sometimes threaten retaliation against American Muslims who have reported their knowledge and suspicions to the government.

“I shouldn’t live as a Muslim-American and have that mean that I’m afraid of ISIS and I’m afraid of anyone else that might think I was involved. That’s not what being American means,” Darwish said.

Photo: Nick Swartsell

Speakers called upon people of all different faiths and backgrounds to work together against those pushing racial and religious stereotyping and intolerance.

Dana Gregory Griffith, a UC professor of Judaism studies and education who teaches a seminar on “Understanding Religious Intolerance,” encouraged everyone to learn about Islam in order to end the backlash against the Muslim community.

“We will not be able to change those in the world who are sociopaths, who are so diluted they cannot be reasoned with, but we can isolate them by being knowledgeable, by knowing the facts, by spreading knowledge and fact and truth,” he said.Local activist Iman Ismaeel Chartier said it’s going to take everyone’s participation to fight back against the current system pushing the U.S. toward social inequality and gun violence.“It’s going to take all of us working together, holding hands, standing foot to foot and screaming into the night, ‘we will not let our rights go away,’ ” Chartier said. “We will not be tricked into hating the other. We will not be fooled into a life of hate. Our hearts are too big for that.”Darwish said the rally and the smiles and high-fives she received from spectators during the march reaffirmed the faith she has in her community.“There are one or two crazies, and that’s bad and unfortunate,” she said, “and this is why we’re raising awareness about it — because they can actually cause harm. But in reality I have so much more hope than anything else.” ©