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An anti-Muslim attack in Milwaukee hits too close to home

I worry about my mother in an America where hate is becoming routine

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

Verse 49:13 of the Qu’ran

I can’t help but think about my mom.

She, like the survivor of what appears to be a hate crime in Milwaukee early this week, wears hijab — not to express a rabid militancy but because she takes delight, solace and direction in her religion. Yet, my mom’s devotion, like the religious observance of the survivor, continues to be inseparably linked to the fallacy that a woman in hijab is an active, catastrophic threat to our physical safety.

Think about your mom. Odds are she is not a homicidal maniac. What would you think if someone assaulted her because of what she was wearing?

The Islamic Society of Milwaukee is the mosque I grew up in, in the city my family calls home. I used to play tackle football in the prayer hall that the woman was leaving when she was allegedly targeted, manhandled and shanked.

According to an email that the Islamic Society of Milwaukee sent to community members Wednesday, the woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, is a “petite woman in her late 50s.” She was walking home from the mosque’s morning prayer service when a man got out of his car and attempted to rip off her hijab. As she resisted, he began “punching and kicking [her] in the head and back while she was on the ground.” She also suffered a cut on her arm that “was not serious.” Although she managed to return home after the attack, the woman may have suffered a seizure while she was trying to call for help. Eventually she was hospitalized, and she was released Wednesday.

In a city often cited as the most segregated in the country, Friday prayer at this mosque may be the most diverse moment in a metropolitan area defined by racial concentration and hierarchy. Standing in defiance to this segregated reality, a mosaic of Muslims stand heel to heel and shoulder to shoulder, indivisible.

My mom volunteered for more than a decade in this mosque, helping kids, including the victim’s daughter, learn about their religion. In effect, shielding them from the noxious delusions of radicalization. I wish this attacker had taken her class.

He would have learned from an unnervingly tender and impossibly enthusiastic woman. Someone who introduces children to Islam sans fire and brimstone, preferring a mystical mix of spirit-affirming prayers and heroic history.

Professionally, as a personal banker, my mother plays equally as therapist, financial adviser and spiritual guru to hundreds if not thousands of clients dog-paddling in a stubbornly stagnant economy. Despite my exasperation and concerns as to whether she fears discrimination, she declines to even acknowledge the possibility of a threat against her safety. Her reassurances were comforting — until I read about this hate crime so close to home.

According to BuzzFeed News, authorities are not investigating this as a hate crime “at this time.” A spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Department told the website they had “confirmed the details of certain aspects of the woman’s story, and added there was no reason to doubt its validity.”

After two fabricated claims of hate crimes on Muslims shortly after the November 2016 election, a healthy dose of skepticism may be appropriate. Independent of the veracity of this woman’s claims, however, one cannot deny that anti-Muslim violence is becoming all too common in communities, blue and red alike, across the country. Mosques are being burned down, innocent people attacked and homes vandalized. To suggest that these acts of intimidation and violence advance our national security is to forget that these individuals are deserving of basic human rights.

Many of the victims of anti-Muslim bias are not even Muslim, underscoring the absurdity of targeting people for their presumed religious affiliation. Some Muslim rights activists suggest that a lack of empathy is a barrier to even recognizing hate crimes against Muslims.

Growing up, I reveled in the fact that I shared my birthday with George Washington. My love for him led me from the suburbs of Milwaukee to Washington University in St. Louis and eventually Washington, D.C. Every move felt like destiny was bringing me closer to my childhood hero. I felt a deep connection to what I understood to be his commitment to the cause of liberty, religious or otherwise, and equality.

Reluctantly, I have come to better understand our first president, whose greatest service to his slaves was freeing them after he died. Perhaps at the time this was indeed a courageous act of great magnanimity. To me, however, it comes off more like the self-congratulating equivalent to: “Freedom?! Over my dead body!”

It’s so strange to realize some people in our nation would sooner lionize slaveholders, rapists and war criminals in our collective national consciousness than honor the personal space of a woman returning home from her house of worship.

As if she were the enemy.

Monis Khan is a digital producer for The Undefeated.