Threats, hate directed at Lynnwood mosque after terrorist attacks

By Warren Cornwall

Herald Writer

Within hours of the East Coast terrorist attacks, the calls began trickling into the Dar Alarqam Mosque in Lynnwood.

"It’s time for you people to get out of the country. Now," a woman’s hoarse, angry voice said on the mosque’s voice mail.

It was just the first of a flood of invective, fear, accusation and anger, peppered with occasional messages of support and concern, that filled the phone and confirmed the fears of county officials and others.

Speculation over the culprits behind the attacks, and repeated mention in the media of Islamic extremists as top candidates, spilled over locally Tuesday into isolated spasms of anger toward Muslims and Arabs.

In addition to the phone calls, the mosque’s sign along the street was splattered on both sides with black paint Tuesday. Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart said he received several calls early in the day from people urging him to investigate particular businesses affiliated with an ethnic group, and one person made a threat against that group.

Some Arab students at Everett Community College left class early, fearing they could be targeted by people angered by the attacks.

"They are afraid if they are out in the public right now they could be a victim for people who are angry and want to get revenge," said Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Forum of Snohomish County. The organization helps to organize language classes for recent immigrants at the college.

Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, concerned about a possible backlash, urged Snohomish County residents to treat each other with respect, no matter what race or religion, and to not jump to any conclusions about who was responsible for the attacks.

The region is becoming an increasingly diverse place, he said, "and I would call on every citizen to be respectful of the diversity."

Bart said he was trying to contact leaders in different minority communities to tell them he was committed to protecting them and to encourage them to call law enforcement if they suffered any harassment.

"We’re really concerned about backlash," he said.

Lynnwood police were investigating the mosque vandalism Tuesday.

Dinh-Kuno said her staff was also speaking with people from communities with ethnic ties to the Middle East, urging people to call 911 if they receive any threats and to "stay very, very low key."

One leader of the Lynnwood mosque said he was saddened by the phone messages and the vandalism. He said people needed to understand that Muslims are Americans as well and are also deeply troubled by the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

"My message to them is we denounce such an act, and it’s clearly against the principle of Islam. We send our condolence to anybody directly affected by this," said Nasser, a member of the mosque’s board of directors. He asked that his last name not be published, fearing it would make him a target of further harassment.

The mosque is one of the few in Snohomish County and has been in the north Lynnwood neighborhood since 1993, Nasser said. He could not remember receiving such calls before.

The calls ranged from questioning their patriotism to asking whether the mosque’s worshippers were "declaring war against all Christians."

"He who lives by the sword dies by the sword," one caller said.

Some also called to express concern that local Muslims could be the victims of harassment and to offer support.

Comparisons between the 1941 Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attack abounded Tuesday, as people recalled the last time there was a major air attack on U.S. soil.

That comparison extends to the response by some along ethnic and racial lines, said University of Washington military historian Randolph Hennes.

Hennes recalled walking Seattle’s Chinatown district with his father shortly after Pearl Harbor. His father pointed out broken windows in storefronts of newly vandalized businesses.

Eventually, Japanese Americans living along the West Coast were forced from their homes into concentration camps during the war, amid fears they could serve as insurgents for the Japanese government.

Hennes recalled an initial wave of anti-Arab sentiment immediately followed the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City as well. That was eventually blamed on American extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Such backlash from recent terrorist attacks may be augmented by the lack of an obvious enemy, Hennes said. After Pearl Harbor, people could focus their rage at the Japanese government.

"Then, you had a palpable, tangible, detectable enemy. What’s really so striking about this is we really don’t," he said.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to cornwall@heraldnet.com.

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