New Yorkers said “Happy Fourth of July” and “Eid Mubarak” at about the same time this year, thanks to the predictable lunar cycle. But a less predictable pattern of violence against Muslims marred the last few days of the holy month of Ramadan for Brooklyn Muslims.
This story was originally going to be about the way Brooklyn’s Muslim community celebrates the Fourth of July, but on the holiday reports emerged of two sixteen year old Muslim boys suffering a severe beating at the hands of an assailant who called one a “terrorist” on Sunday night, according to the victims. Unnamed police sources have told local news outlets that the brawl began when the young men started talking to the assailant’s girlfriend.
Despite the allegation of the word “terrorist” coming as part of the attack, the New York Police Department said that the incident was not a hate crime. The decision disturbed some members of the area’s Muslim community, making them feel the police had overlooked their safety. The act of violence against two Muslim youth, who were attending late-night prayers, came after the mosque had repeatedly asked police for more security over late-night hours during Ramadan. Citing a lack of resources, officials told the mosque that they couldn’t spare cops. They hired a security guard to be there from 9 pm to midnight. The attack happened at about 1 a.m. Sunday morning.
“No one is expecting the NYPD to be there all day,” said Afaf Nasher, executive director of CAIR New York, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group. She was at the mosque on Tuesday helping advise its members in this difficult time.
“Considering that hate incidents have risen dramatically it helps to have precautionary measures. There were month long services. Where were they? Why wouldn’t you prioritize given the context of what’s happening in our community,”
Nasher is talking about the rise in Islamophobic attacks on American Muslims since the Paris attacks and Donald Trump’s condemnations of Muslims. She feels that the police have not done enough to rule out an anti-Muslim motivation for the July 3 beating.
“We believe that every lead should be followed up on, until the very end,” she said. “They know who he is, the last word we’re getting is he’s being sought after but what has this community frustrated is them making a determination before even a person has been questioned.”
“When Muslims are involved in anything, even though they might not have anything to do with anything Islamic, their motives are investigated to the tiniest degree,” she said.
“How did this make you feel on the Fourth of July?” I asked.
“It’s bad in two ways. You have the Fourth of July, in which we consider ourselves as American as anybody else, and I’m talking to my kids about the past and the forefathers and we’re celebrating history. It’s not just fireworks. It means independence. It means principles. Those principles I idealized so much growing up that whenever anybody within the community would refer to another country as home, I would think ‘What are they talking about. This is where it is.’”
“Here there are principles of justice and fair play. And of course I knew about slavery. But, by the law, we all have a shot here. Equal treatment. Now we’re seeing people seeking high positions are saying otherwise? It’s insane. It makes you feel betrayed as a Muslim American,” she added.
On Tuesday afternoon, community leaders staged a peaceful march through the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, a few blocks south of Sunset Park, where the beating took place, leaving the victims with black eyes and sending them to the hospital. The mosque, the Muslim Community Center at 3rd Ave. and 53rd Street, distinguishes itself in the city by hosting a charity group, Muslims Giving Back, which distributes food to the needy and homeless.
Mohamed Bahe, the mosque director, described an absurd series of negotiations with the NYPD during the month of Ramadan, asking them to post a cop outside while mosque members make their way home late at night in the deserted neighborhood. The local precinct posted an officer outside during the day on Tuesday, the last day of Ramadan before Eid. It was a hot and humid day.
“I feel bad for the guy,” Bahe, from Brooklyn, said of the officer. He’d requested police to be there during the cool of the evening.
I asked him why people should care about attacks on Muslims.
“I mean it’s kind of what goes around comes around. If it happens to other groups, it’ll happen to you. Each group in America went through this.”
The mosque has gotten busier thanks to the start of Muslims Giving Back, a food pantry program that serves free meals on Fridays and Saturdays. Bahe said it has attracted Muslims and non-Muslims, who volunteer together to help the poor.
Bahe lamented the reluctance of mosque members to speak to the press. The shaken victims refuse to tell their side of the story, too.
“They think they’re going to get targeted more, by police,” he said. “But now the NYPD controls the narrative.”
For the mosque’s members and Bahe, the attack cast a shadow over their Fourth of July celebrations. But it was worse for Nadeem Emrech, 51, the father of one of the victims, Ahmed.
“I spent the day in the hospital,” he told Mondoweiss during the march against anti-Muslim hate crimes. Although Emrech says he will move to Canada if Donald Trump wins the election, he doesn’t blame Trump for the assault.
“Every person is responsible for what they do,” he said.
Emrech said that a prison sentence of five or ten years for the attacker would be sufficient for him to consider justice done.
About a hundred people, men, women and children, walked through Bay Ridge denouncing the attack. Bahe told me about it as we finished our interview. The march’s route was just a few blocks away. I was the only representative of the media at the event, and this story might be one of the only accounts of the demonstration.
Zein Rimaoui, director of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, where the march began and ended, said that the Irish and the Italians and the Jews all had all experienced discrimination in their first years as Americans.
“It is the same for us,” he said. “Everybody goes through it.”
But unlike the mid 19th century New York City, the mayor’s office has to figure out what to say about discrimination. Figuring out how to do public relations in this situation is not easy. What can a government official say?
Daniel Abramson, a community affairs officer in the Mayor’s office, was there to figure out just that. Abramson stressed that the mayor, Bill de Blasio, was behind the city’s Muslims.
“New York as an inclusive place, a place where all different communities can feel safe,” Abramson said. “[The mayor] made Eid a holiday for public school students. It’s why I visited at least three mosques during Ramadan. These are wonderful places. They’re places for families. And I learned a lot too. They are as American as New York, as anybody else. Violence is not OK. But it’s especially sad. We want families to feel safe. And that they have a place in New York.”