DITMAS PARK – Elected officials, organizers, and members of the community stood in solidarity this afternoon against tomorrow’s “Punish a Muslim Day.”
A few weeks ago, fliers from an anonymous source were mailed across the United Kingdom headlined “Punish a Muslim Day,” with the date April 3 written underneath.
“They have hurt you, they have made loved ones suffer,” the letter states. “What are you going to do about it?”
On the bottom of the letter, there are eight attacks written. For each action a person takes, a reward will be provided. For example, a person will receive 500 points if they “Butcher a Muslim using gun, knife, vehicle or otherwise.”
The letter has gone viral on social media and has alarmed the Muslim population across the world, including right here in Brooklyn. To ease the community, the Pakistani American Youth Society (PAYS), along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adam, hosted a press conference.
Adams described the letter as being despicable and said it has “the energy of someone that wants to do harm.” He also made it clear that the New York Police Department and he himself do not see the letter as a hoax.
“Any time you take the time to create a letter, place it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, address the envelope, and mail it to individual people, that is not a simple action,” he said. “That’s a premeditated action, and the goal is… to create terror, not only to individuals inside the UK but right here in America. And that is not going to occur. We will not stand by and allow it to happen.”
He spoke about one of the most challenging times in his 22-year police career – September 11. As the Twin Towers were attacked, so were the families of Muslim NYPD officers.
“Within the clouds and smokes of those buildings, there were secrets many Muslim [officers] rarely talked about. How, as they protected life and property throughout the city, their family members, wives, and children were being assaulted and harassed on many occasions. That will not happen again.”
The room erupted in applause. Adams will be joining NYPD officers and community leaders as they go to mosques and Muslim-populated areas tomorrow to make sure there is not any “passive response to protecting the people of this city.”
“Our message must be just as loud. Not punish a Muslim, but let’s embrace a Muslim, let’s embrace a Christian, let’s embrace a person of Jewish faith, let’s embrace the diversity that this city has to offer,” he said. “There are those that want to bring harm to people because of their religious beliefs. That is not going to happen in the borough of Brooklyn.”
Rabbi Bob Kaplan from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs was also at the conference. He spoke about the power of faith and diversity.
“There are folks in the world that want to see a continued division. This is not the message of this holiday season,” he said. “Anyone who preaches hate towards anyone, particularly those who are feeling vulnerable now because of other things in our world, that is simply unacceptable.”
Councilman Jumaane Williams of the 45th District began his speech by saying “assalamualaikum,” which means “peace be unto you” in Arabic. He also reiterated that the letter is not a hoax. If history has taught us anything is that people create an “other,” he said. The “other” is whoever “we believe does not fit.”
“We find differences and we find a reason to attack that ‘other’ as a scapegoat for everything that is wrong,” he said. “We need to take this as seriously as we’ve taken anything else before. People are being dehumanized. That is important because before you can harm someone, you have to dehumanize them. You have to take away the humanity from them, and then you can cause harm.”
This piece of paper, he said, does it all at once. “It dehumanizes and gives you points for the more harm you can cause someone.” In a powerful few seconds, he read some of the attacks written on the letter.
“I wish I could say with all certainty that nothing is going to happen,” he said. “But I know I can say with certainty, is that the people who are here and the people who represent the best of this city, this country, will do everything they can to get in the way of evil.”
NYPD Lieutenant Adeel Rana, the president of Muslim Officers Society, urged Muslims to be vigilant but not afraid.
“I always say thank God we live in the greatest country in the world. Stuff like that, you don’t see happening in the US. But whatever happens overseas… always has some type of effect in the other part of the world,” he said. “This might be an incident against the Muslim community, but guess what? We’re standing next to our Jewish and Christian and other communities when something like that happens. We will not stand on the sidelines. We are here as together, as one voice. One human. We bleed the same.”
Muslim community leader, Noor Rabah, also urged the Muslim population to not be afraid tomorrow. He then spoke directly to the non-Muslim community, advising them to learn their Muslim neighbor, and “see Muslims for who they are, not what they’re portrayed to be.”
“When the community comes together to speak out as one voice, that’s where we have power, that’s where we have protection, that’s where we have one body, and that’s what we have to be,” he said.
He read aloud two verses from the Quran to remind people to not give in to hate. The verses translate to “with difficulty comes ease,” and “respond to evil with righteous acts.”
“There’s nothing to be scared of,” Rabah said. “You’re not doing anything wrong, you are not the aggressors, you are not the suspects. You guys are innocent beings.”
Though Muslims are being told to not be afraid and to go outside tomorrow as if it’s another day, not everyone will do so. Mohammad Bahi of Muslims Giving Back, a non-profit organization, said he urged his wife to not leave the house tomorrow “because I don’t want someone to get 50 points for throwing acid in your face.”
Adem Bunkeddeko, running against Congresswoman Yvette Clarke for the 9th Congressional District, also showed his support for the Muslim community.
“It is extremely distressing to know that in our community, in this day and age across the world, in particular, there are those who seek to call out Muslims and do harm to them, to disparage them in a way that does not fit in the cultural fabric and DNA of us as a country,” he said.
“Fear cannot dictate how we live in this borough,” he said. “We have to not only stand up and speak out against hate, but we also have to speak out and speak up when issues and events like this do not occur.”
Debbie Almontaser, the president of the Muslim Community Network, said she’ll be standing in Newkirk Plaza tomorrow at 8 am, giving out hijabs and kufi caps to people passing by, because she is not afraid.
“What we have seen in the last couple of weeks is not anything surprising,” she said. “We must remember the climate that we have been living in… didn’t just start on Nov. 9, 2016, it reached the surface on Nov. 9, 2016.”
“I refuse to live in fear and so should you not live in fear,” she said to the Muslim female population. “If we make the choice to be afraid and stay home tomorrow, then we have let ourselves down as human beings.”