Before heading to a community barbeque on Saturday afternoon, members of the Muslim Students Association Northwest were faced with the unpleasant task of washing dog feces off of their vehicle.
The van, which is owned by the Seattle chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America and is leased to various Muslim organizations throughout the Seattle area, was vandalized on the evening of Wednesday, June 23 in what members of the local Muslim community are calling a hate crime.
The van's owner, who routinely parks the vehicle in front of the Islamic Center of the Eastside in Bellevue, Wash., first noticed the vandalism on Thursday, June 24 after returning from afternoon prayers at the mosque. The van, which advertises the ICNA's "Why Islam" outreach project and reads "Discover Islam," features the project's telephone number and web site.
"The project's biggest goal is to clarify misconceptions of Islam," says Arsalan Bukhari, Executive Director of the statewide chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The project provides free literature on Islam and features a call center that answers questions about Islam.
"This hate crime shows we have to work harder to promote proper understanding of Islam and to negate the poison and false propaganda being spread by misinformation," wrote Secretary of the ICNA Washington Chapter Dr. Muhammad Ayub in a local press release.
CAIR has called upon both the Bellevue Police Department and the FBI to consider this incident a hate or bias-motivated crime.
As per Washington State's "malicious harassment" statute, a hate crime is defined as an act in which victims are targeted based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. Hate crimes are categorized as Class C felonies, carrying a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine.
At this point, however, the Bellevue Police Department is not considering the incident a hate crime. According to the Department, there is not sufficient evidence to warrant such an investigation, as there remains no surveillance or eyewitness accounts of the vandalism.
"We have requested that [the police] question people and do some investigative work to see if someone saw something," says Bukhari. "And we've put out a call to citizenry to come forward if they have any information."
"People should know that they can't get away with acts like this. If there is a law against hate crimes, then it should be used against people," he says.
According to Bukhari, CAIR's national chapters report alleged hate crimes against Muslim Americans to both local and federal authorities in order to ensure that there is an accurate national account of such crimes against this community. Under its Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the FBI maintains a national hate crime data collection system. He also notes that the penalties are stricter at the federal level, a fact that CAIR hopes will serve as a stronger deterrent for future hate crimes.
CAIR's Seattle chapter seldom reports incidents to the FBI. "This may be the first incident that we have reported to the FBI this year," says Bukhari.
"The event that took place in Bellevue fits a pattern of increased targeting of persons and property associated with Islam and the American Muslim community," he wrote in his letter to the Seattle FBI field office.
According to Bukhari, attacks against property and places associated with Islam and the Muslim community are a daily occurrence nationwide. Earlier in the week a Georgia mosque was vandalized and a bomb threat was issued against a proposed mosque in New York City.
Given that the FBI does not have an incident report system, CAIR does not yet know whether the agency has logged Bukhari's request for a federal investigation.
Although the Bellevue police have, at this point, closed any investigation of Thursday's incident, they have increased patrols in the area. Bukhari says that the police will reopen the investigation if they receive further information or evidence.
"I hope whoever did this feels that the community is really against it