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Muslims in Queens Attacked by Bigots and the Media

Posted by on Dec. 7, 2012 at 7:42 PM
  • 5 Replies

musician & social justice educator


Muslims in Queens Attacked by Bigots and the Media

Last week, two separate brutal attacks against Muslim men took place in Queens, New York. On November 24, 72-year-old Ali Akmal was nearly beaten to death while going on his early morning walk and remains in critical, but stable, condition.

CBS New York reports:

Akmal's tongue was so badly swollen that he couldn't talk for two days. When he finally could, he told police that when he first encountered the two men, they asked him, "are you Muslim or Hindu?"

He responded "I'm Muslim," and that's when they attacked.

The beating was so savage and personal, Akmal was even bitten on the nose.


Just a few days earlier, 57-year-old Bashir Ahmad was beaten and stabbed repeatedly as he entered a mosque in Flushing, Queens early in the morning on November 19. The attacker yelled anti-Muslim slurs at him, threatened to kill him, and also bit him on the nose. Ahmad was hospitalized and received staples in his head and stitches in his leg.

These vicious attacks come just a few months after the white supremacist rampage that left six Sikhs dead in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August, followed by a string of at least 10 separate anti-Muslim attacks around the country in the two weeks that followed.

Needless to say, I was horrified last week when I heard about the attack on Ahmad and am even more horrified today after learning about Akmal, a grandfather, nearly being killed in this act of violent hatred a few days later. The trauma of the Oak Creek shooting is still fresh for us Sikhs in the United States, and there is little doubt that these recent attacks on Muslim men in Queens are rooted in the same type of bigotry that has so often made Sikhs targets since 9/11. As I've said before, our struggles are deeply connected.

The way I heard about the attack on Ahmad last week was almost as troubling as the attack itself. I read this headline on NBC New York's website: "Queens Mosque Stabbing Victim Says He'd Retaliate if Given Chance."

Before providing any details on what happened in the attack and why, the story leads off with, "A Muslim man who was stabbed as he tried to open the door to a Queens mosque says he will strike back if he ever sees his attacker."

I read the headline and lead paragraph repeatedly; I could hardly believe what I was seeing. A man was just beaten and stabbed in a possible hate crime (the article mentions the anti-Muslim slurs), but the story is: "The Muslim may retaliate."

The New York Post's coverage of the incident was similar, leading off with:

A devout Muslim man who was stabbed as he tried to open the door to a Queens mosque on Sunday says his hate-spewing attacker had better watch his back.

'If I see him again, I will kill him from 20 feet away,' 57-year-old Bashir Ahmad told The Post yesterday. 'I will hurt him.'


I imagine I would be extremely emotional after such an attack as well, and while I have never been physically assaulted, I have experienced plenty of racist harassment, including my turban being pulled off on the NYC subway. My emotions ran out of control in the minutes and hours after it happened -- I was fuming with anger, rage, humiliation. I guess I should consider myself lucky that no reporters were there. Apparently the anger of someone with brown skin and a beard makes a more exciting story for the media than the bleak reality of racist violence.

Perhaps we shouldn't even be so surprised by these attacks when the media's depictions of Muslims has become so biased. American media -- including Hollywood -- have long portrayed Arabs and Muslims as barbaric, blood-thirsty caricatures. Things have apparently gotten so out of control that even after a Muslim man like Bashir Ahmad is victimized in such a horrific way, the take home message for the public is still that the Muslim is the aggressor, is suspicious, is a potential threat.

Not long ago, blackface and minstrel shows were commonplace in the U.S. Racial justice activists worked tirelessly to push these sorts of bigoted depictions of black folks to the margins and did so with great success (though the problem is far from solved). We desperately need a similar movement today to uproot Islamophobia from the mass media.

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by on Dec. 7, 2012 at 7:42 PM
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by Platinum Member on Dec. 7, 2012 at 7:43 PM

This is horrible.

by Platinum Member on Dec. 7, 2012 at 7:45 PM

Man stabbed outside Queens mosque

A Queens man was stabbed repeatedly outside a mosque by a would-be killer who shouted anti-Muslim comments, police said.

The victim, identified by friends as Bashar Mohammod, 57, was attacked from behind while opening the Masjid Al-Saaliheen mosque for prayer around 4:45 a.m., police said. The attacker, described as a Hispanic man in his 40s, stabbed Mohammod repeatedly while shouting anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim slurs. The victim might have lost a finger in the attack, said a friend, Mohammad Omar, who visited Mohammod at Queens General Hospital where he was treated and released. "The person told him that he doesn't like Muslims," said Omar. "That person was trying to kill him." Norman Y. Lono/New York Daily News Fellow worshippers described the victim, originally from Afghanistan, as a devout Muslim who often led morning prayer at the Kissena Blvd. mosque. "He prays five times a day. He's a very good guy." said fellow worshipper Dawood Mashriqi. "He's an early bird." Investigators had the mosque cordoned off late Sunday afternoon even as worshippers made their way to prayer. No arrests have been made.

by Platinum Member on Dec. 7, 2012 at 7:47 PM

Healing the trauma of post-9/11 racism one story (and melody) at a time

Sonny Singh
Date Published:
September 11, 2011

photo by Renaud Philippephoto by Renaud PhilippeOnce the term terrorist attack was all over the headlines on September 11, 2001, something inside my 21-year-old, fresh-out-of-college self was dreadfully certain of what was coming next. Before I even had a chance to begin processing and mourning the horrific loss of thousands of lives in New York City, I was getting calls from even the most apolitical of my extended family members, urging me to be careful and “keep a low profile,” to not leave my house unless I absolutely had to. No one in my family talked much about racism when I was growing up, but suddenly it was clear that while many in my Sikh family might not share my anti-oppression, leftist politics on paper, they sure as hell knew what it meant to be a target.

For those in the U.S. Sikh community who weren’t already dreading the racist backlash immediately after 9/11, the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi on September 15, 2001 in Phoenix, Arizona (my hometown), surely shook them to the core. Quickly U.S. flags were being distributed at gurdwaras throughout the country, stickers with slogans like “Sikhs love America” in red, white, and blue emerged on car bumpers. Suddenly we became “Sikh Americans,” a term seldom used before 9/11.

It’s almost ten years later, and I still walk the streets and ride the subway with a hyper vigilance built up through a lifetime of being targeted because of my brown skin, turban, and beard. In my daily life in New York City, where I have lived since 2003, I experience some form of explicit harassment from strangers at least once a week, on average. Sometimes several separate incidents in one day. Yes, in New York City, the most diverse city on the planet.

Most commonly, someone will call me a terrorist or “Osama” either directly to my face or to someone they are with, with the intention of me hearing it. And it doesn’t stop there.

A few months ago on my first day teaching in a high school in the Bronx, a student walking by me said to his friends, “Look, an Iraqi! He’s gonna blow up the school!” and they all burst into laughter.

Last month at the laundromat across the street from my Brooklyn apartment, I found my wet clothes thrown out of the dryers I was using and scattered on the grimy floor.

In 2007, four police cars surrounded me while I was putting up flyers for my band’s concert in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (a neighborhood where every street pole is covered with concert flyers). I was handcuffed and arrested and spent 16 hours in jail, where the white cop who arrested me forced me to take of my turban “for my own safety.”

In 2006, a stranger ripped of my turban (dastar) while I was riding the subway, which had also happened to me in the fifth grade. I wrote these words after the incident:

I get off at Smith and 9th Street with my dirty dastar in my hands, not knowing what to do. My eyes fill with tears immediately. I feel naked and exposed, so small, so humiliated, and so, so alone. Why did he do that? Why? Was it fun for him? Did he impress his friends? Does it make him feel like he has more power than someone else—someone who looks like an immigrant, a foreigner, bin Laden?

I get to a corner of the platform and break down in despair, remembering fifth grade vividly, feeling so angry and exhausted from living in this country. The twentysomething years of this shit is going through me at once—the slurs, the obnoxious stares, the go-back-to-your-countries, the threats, the towel/rag/tomato/condom/tumor heads, all of it. But somehow pulling off my turban hurts more than anything. Maybe it’s the symbolism of my identity wrapped up in this one piece of cloth that, like my brown skin, I wear everyday.

I am an activist, an educator, and a musician. I dedicate my life to raising consciousness about oppression and injustice in the world and helping people see that change is possible. The music I make is often joyful and celebratory, embodying a hopeful spirit that is so needed in these times.

Yet simultaneously, as I cope with the trauma of bigotry, I struggle in a very personal way to remain hopeful. This is actually the first time I am using that word, trauma, in writing to refer to my experience. Being stared at with contempt and called derogatory names as I walk down the street is my status quo. It is an exhausting status quo. As I get older, it is becoming harder to avoid the emotional toll that a few decades of racist harassment has taken on me. In this post-9/11 climate, there is no “post-” in sight to the trauma of racism.

The reality seems especially bleak in the last year with the right-wing rage that has taken the U.S. by storm with a very clear enemy: Muslims.

The hateful fear-mongering perpetuated by pundits and politicians on the evening news has real life consequences indicated by a rise in hate crimes as well as bullying in schools. From Quran Burning days to Stop Islamization of America rallies, Muslim-bashing is becoming an increasingly mainstream phenomenon. As always, the outward appearance of Sikhs makes us especially vulnerable. Just last week, two elderly Sikh men were shot, one of them killed, while going on an afternoon walk in their suburban Sacramento neighborhood.

Trauma upon trauma.

A decade of fear.

How will I, and we, heal?

Every time I step onto a stage and perform, wearing my turban proudly, I am breaking down the barriers and insecurities and anxieties that the trauma of racism has caused me. As my air creates melody through my trumpet and my voice, I am no longer afraid. As a crowd of a hundred or a thousand bursts into joyous dance and celebration the moment I play my first note, everything and anything feels possible.

As an educator, when I share my own experiences of being bullied and harassed with students, I witness transformation happening. When I refuse to separate myself and my experiences from the content I am teaching, I feel empowered and confident in who I am. I witness students coming to a deeper understanding of their own prejudices and to change them.

After my turban was pulled off on the subway several years ago, the only thing I could do was write. I went home, devastated, and wrote furiously. I emailed what I wrote to some of my closest friends and then eventually cleaned it up and had it published on a racial justice blog. By documenting what happened to me and sharing it, I began my healing process.

In all of these cases, I am sharing my story, whether through a melody, in a classroom, or on a blog. And as I share my post-9/11/01 story here in 2011 with these words, I feel a profound sense of hope that may not be rooted in a logical, physical reality, but perhaps in a deeper reality that connects us all and is a foundation for our belief in liberation and justice. Even in the worst of circumstances, remaining hopeful is a necessity to our survival as people traumatized by oppression. We Sikhs call this chardi kala—a spirit of revolutionary eternal optimism. Our collective struggles for dignity and social justice are not only necessary to tear down systemic inequalities, but also to heal our own personal wounds as oppressed people, always remaining in the chardi kala spirit.

by Platinum Member on Dec. 7, 2012 at 7:58 PM
1 mom liked this

 Well there were 2 cases of a nose getting bit. That's the same nut. We have had the Westboro church wanting to burn Korans. In Tennessee legislators trying to build a Mosque. Now we have this. people need to stand up and verbally support Muslims, religious freedom, and the fact that humans deserve a right to exist in piece. 

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