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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

Southern California Muslims On The Defensive

Some Muslim communities are taking precautions against retaliation due to the San Bernardino shooting.

Listen to the ARN audio piece.

Muslim communities in southern California watched alongside the rest of the country on Wednesday as news broke that two suspects gunned down employees at a center that helps the disabled.

Workers at the Inland Recreation Center were attending a holiday party when two shooters entered and opened fire on the group, killing 14 and injuring 21 others.  Islamic communities saw images of bloody victims being treated.

Not long after the attack, the shooters engaged in a gunfight with police while attempting to flee. The Muslim community found out alongside the rest of the nation that both suspects were shot and killed. 

Muslims waited alongside the rest the country to find out the identities of the shooters.  When the names Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were released, some in the community knew they were no longer a part of the nation.

They were once again the enemy.

Many Islamic community members feel that peoples’ sentiments turn against all Muslims when Islamic extremists are the perpetrators of tragic events. Often, outside communities see all Muslims as the problem, instead of seeing the offenders as misguided individuals, and voice this through social media and sometimes violence.

No one knows that better than the Muslim community itself.

The Council on American Islamic Relations called for a press conference in Anaheim, CA, soon after the names of the shooters were released.  On Thursday, the Council attempted to relay a message that many in the United States might find hard to accept.

“We condemn this horrific and revolting attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured,” CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said. “The Muslim community stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow Americans in repudiating any twisted mindset that would claim to justify such sickening acts of violence.”

Some feel like they have to defend their religion from misconceptions.  Others feel like they need to protect themselves against misguided revenge.

“Just this morning there was a lot of hatred and very vocally clear discrimination against Muslims,” said Gustavo Ramirez, a community activist.  “Other people [were] calling for unity and calling for love of all people.”

The Islam Center of Claremont is just a short drive away from the Inland Recreation Center.  On most Thursday afternoons, the center is quiet, but it is never unwelcoming.

This Thursday, however, was no ordinary one.

The front gates were closed shut — a rarity for the center.  But with a children’s school on the premises, Salas isn’t taking any chances.

Aside from locking the gate, Salas hired private security and asked that the Pomona Police Department send a squad car to patrol the area regularly.

Salas is aware that because Farook and Malik are Muslim, there is a chance for backlash against the Islamic community, even in the usually tolerant Claremont.

“We are extra careful about what we do,” Salas said. “We are advising our parents to be extra careful about what they do, who might follow them — to be extra vigilant about their surroundings.”

Salas also has another potentially surprising avenue of protection — his neighbors.

“We have people in our neighborhood watching our mosque who are non-Muslim,” Salas said. “They don’t want to see anything happen to our community.”

Paul Buch is one of those neighbors.  He is a cantor at Temple Beth Israel in Pomona.  At a time when Muslims may feel they are alone, it may be nice to know that other religions are around to support them through an uncertain and dangerous time.

“The hope I have moving forward is that we’re going to be able to continue the work that we’ve done over the years,” Buch said. “Modeling how a range of faith communities, a range of ethnic communities, a range of people can get along and go beyond what some might call tolerance into real respect and understanding.”

It is that kind of interfaith support that may bring communities like Claremont together.  If people can lean on one another instead of vilifying a group for the crimes of a few, there can be a resolution to this tragic shooting.

“I always say that with every act of horrific violence that happens there are acts of kindness that counteract that narrative,” Salas said.

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