‘Punish a Muslim Day’ passes peacefully but hate crime concerns remain

People participate in the annual Muslim Day Parade in New York on September 24, 2017. (Reuters)

A viral letter that began circulating online over a month ago had New York City police officers on high alert this Tuesday. The letter advertised April 3rd as “Punish a Muslim Day,” encouraging people to commit violent crimes against Muslims.

The flyer featured a chart of suggested actions and a point system, asserting that more violent actions would guarantee a greater reward, though there was no indication what the supposed reward would entail. On the chart, the mildest suggested act was “verbally abuse a Muslim” for 10 points, while the most extreme urged participants to “nuke Mecca” for 2,500 points.

Hard copies of the letter were anonymously mailed to families in London. In the United States, images of the letter made rounds in several online communities. A namesake hashtag rattled through Twitter in the days leading up to April 3rd. On social media, many speculated that the campaign was a hoax.

Heightened presence

As a result of the high profile nature of the threats, however, the New York Police Department made a point to publicize their heightened presence around houses of worship throughout the city. All day, armed officers could be seen standing guard outside several mosques wearing helmets and flak jackets.

Muslims pray following a protest in Washington Square Park, January 26, 2018 in New York City. (AFP)

Muslims pray following a protest in Washington Square Park, January 26, 2018 in New York City. (AFP)

While Muslim communities were shaken by the eerie letter, and law enforcement tightened security, advocacy organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations remained incredulous. “There’s no reason to believe it poses a credible threat to New Yorkers,” said Albert Fox Cahn, legal director for CAIR New York.

Cahn said that while CAIR New York is always happy to partner with law enforcement to ensure community safety, the policing of mosques has a long and tense history in the city that should not be forgotten. CAIR, which handles cases of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims every day, monitored the situation throughout the day but found no reason for heightened concern.

Solidarity with Muslims

Still, city officials like Brooklyn Borough President, Eric L. Adams took to the streets to show solidarity for New York’s Muslim community. On Tuesday afternoon, Adams went on a community patrol alongside Muslim NYPD officers.

Adams, himself a former NYPD officer, wore a traditional kufi during the event. Adams also tweeted, “There’s no #PunishAMuslimDay in #Brooklyn. Today is #LoveAMuslim Day.”

In fact, by Tuesday afternoon, “Love a Muslim Day” was trending on social media. Several American celebrities, including comedian Dean Obeidallah and actress Sophia Bush, used the opportunity to post uplifting messages of inclusion to fight hate speech in the wake of the letter.

So far, no major crimes in New York have been reported to be linked to the viral campaign even though the Muslim community and its sympathizers continue to remain concerned.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:56 - GMT 06:56
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