“You are dead. We are going to kill you.”
“The North Carolina shootings were just the beginning.”
“You are not Americans, don't fly our flag.”
These are just some of the despicable comments directed at American Muslims in the Dallas-Forth Worth area in the last two months. The first two statements were shared with me by Alia Salem, the executive Director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. The death threat “You are dead...” was chillingly made to her on the phone just a few weeks ago. The second remark was directed at another in the community, referencing the recent killing of three Muslim American college students in North Carolina.
The third comment was yelled at Muslim Americans attending a local conference in mid January that ironically had been organized by the local Muslim community to counter extremism and hate.
I don't mention these comments in the hope of eliciting sympathy. I mention them to give you a sense of the anti-Muslim climate down there so that you understand why the local Muslim community believes that the murder of a Muslim man in Dallas on March 5, 2015 was a hate crime.
That brings us to the story of that Ahmed al-Jumaili. His wife, Zahara, had come to the United States from Iraq about a year ago. Ahmed remained in Iraq to save up more money while working as an Internet technician before starting his new life in America with his bride of a little over a year.
With his wife urging him to move to America so they could be together – and because she believed it was safer than Iraq- Ahmed immigrated to Dallas one month ago. They were finally together in the land of opportunity.
The couple lived in a small apartment complex in the northeast section of Dallas that was home to many Muslim immigrants. It was the start of a life in a new world that still offered the comfort of being with others who shared their old world ways.
On the evening of March 5, 2015, it began to snow in Dallas. And not just a little, but three and half inches, making it the most snow that had fallen in the area since 1942.
I’m sure the uncommonly large snowfall piqued the interest of many in Dallas. But it especially intrigued a man who had just moved here from the Middle East.
So there was Ahmed, his wife who wears a hijab, and her brother standing outside their apartment complex in the parking lot taking photos of the glistening snow. And while standing there admiring the snow, perhaps the fist snowfall Ahmed had ever seen, a shot rang out that struck him. He would die a few hours later at Texas Presbyterian Hospital.
Ahmed al-Jumaili had survived the violence that had plagued Iraq for 36 years. But within one month of living in America, he was murdered in a parking lot while watching snow fall.
Now there’s no specific evidence yet that he was murdered because he was Muslim. Although it was an area known for a high Muslim population and his wife was wearing a hijab. But Alia Salem made it clear the local Muslim community believes it could be anti-Muslim incident. Even the Dallas police spokesperson, when asked it al-Jumaili had been targeted for his faith, told the Los Angeles Times, “that’s a possibility.”
What the police do know is that a grainy black-and-white surveillance video shows four people fleeing after the shooting carrying a rifle. But no arrests have been made as of yet.
The fact that al-Jumaili, an Iraqi, was killed by a rifle, as opposed to up close with a handgun, makes me think of the film American Sniper. Now I’m not saying that the film had anything to do with this killing, but I can’t discount it given the backlash we saw against Muslims and Arabs on social media from people who saw the film. I’m talking remarks like, “Great fucking movie and now I really want to kill some fucking ragheads.”
But here’s what I will say: If a Muslim is “randomly” killed in America in this current climate of anti-Muslim bigotry, I’m assuming it's a hate crime until evidence has been produced to prove otherwise.
And, yes, I know that a hate crime requires evidence that a person was targeted for his race, religion, etc. I’m a former trial attorney, so I’m fully familiar with the evidentiary requirements to prove this crime in a court of law.
But we don’t live in a courtroom. We live in a country where anti-Muslim bigotry is thriving and going unchecked. We live in a country where Muslim hate is so palpably alarming that when I met President Obama a month ago along with 13 other Muslim Americans, this was the only issue I raised to him. And that was six days before we saw three young Muslim American college students, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, murdered execution-style in their Chapel Hill apartment.
We live in a country, as Salem explained, where the uptick in anti-Muslim incidents in Dallas alone has reached levels never seen before. She noted that the local Muslim community is truly frightened and on edge.
There’s no easy solution to anti-Muslim bigotry, just like there’s no simple antidote to racism, anti-Semitism, or homophobia. I do believe with every ounce of my being that the good people far out number the bigots in our country. My hope is that the more media attention these anti-Muslims incidents receive, the more likely we will see the good people rise up and stand with us against the hate.
My only question is how many more Muslim Americans have to be demonized, harassed, attacked, or even killed before that happens?