“What is it about this time that prompted a press conference by the CRLMC addressing Islamophobia?” asked NPR reporter, Odette Yousef, at the event held on November 25, 2015 by the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago (CRLMC). That was a fair question. Incidents involving threats or violence against American Muslims having been occurring for several years. Perhaps the difference lies in the increased frequency of the hate crimes, or the seeming impunity by which even political leaders, including elected officials, have made irresponsible statements against Muslims and even the American Muslim community.
In his opening statement, CRLMC President Rabbi Michael Balinsky stated, “We commend those religious communities who have spoken out against these acts that our Muslim neighbors and friends have endured. We urge everyone in metropolitan Chicago to oppose discriminatory actions and behavior against all members of religious communities, and particularly at this time in our history against Muslims. And finally, to our political leaders, we call on you to desist from inflammatory rhetoric, which only appeals to the base instincts of people.”
CIOGC’s Executive Director, Tabassum Haleem, addressed the particularly harmful impact on American Muslim children from the current Islamophobic atmosphere. She stated that these students are being taunted about Islam and for being Muslims, which can be especially painful since some of the incidents involved their own friends from school. While many Muslim children are able brush off these comments or even try to correct the misconceptions about their religion, some parents have reported signs of depression and personality changes in their children.
Regarding the backlash against Syrian refugees, Rabbi Balinsky further stated, “We therefore contest the proposal of Governor Rauner to impose a “pause” on the welcome of refugees to our community. We also reject as contrary to our American values and shared religious convictions the call to impose a religious criterion in accepting refugees by opening our doors to Christian refugees while refusing those who are Muslim. This, too, only encourages those who seek to scapegoat members of our community based solely on their religious affiliation.”
CIOGC acknowledged the willingness of some Americans of other faiths to stand up for Muslims in this current climate of fear and hatemongering and encourages all stakeholders in our society to reflect on the response by New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton when asked recently about security measures in his city that specifically targeted Muslims from 2003 to 2014. Commissioner Bratton simply stated: “We tried that before. It didn’t work.”