US State Department Reassuring Muslims After Mosque Attack
by IslamOnline and News Agencies
LEWISTON, Maine — US authorities in Maine tried to reassure Muslims on Friday, July 21, that the northeastern state is safe after a man had rolled a frozen pig's head into a mosque during prayers.
"Maine was working with public safety officials to protect its 6,000 to 8,000 Muslims after the incident in Lewiston," the state's second-largest city, Noel Bonem, director of the northeastern state's new office of multicultural affairs, told Reuters.
Bonem said a civil-rights lawsuit filed on Thursday, July 20, by the state attorney-general against Brent Matthews, 33, sends a message to Maine's Muslims "that mosques will continue to be a safe haven, and that such acts will not be tolerated."
The suit, which calls the pig-head toss "a threat of violence," would require Matthews to stay away from the mosque, and its members, and could carry a fine of $5,000.
The incident angered state politicians and local community leaders, who feared it would intimidate Lewiston's estimated 2,000 Muslims, many of them members of its burgeoning Somali community.
Islam forbids the eating of pork.
Matthews told police that he bowled the pig's head into the mosque on July 3 "as a joke," but James Howaniec, his lawyer, said Matthews has entered a not-guilty plea.
Howaniec said he expects Matthews, a construction worker now free on bail, will be charged with desecrating and defacing a place of worship in local court, a misdemeanor charge.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also considering federal criminal charges against Matthews.
Maine has the smallest percentage of non-white residents of any US state; the US Census bureau says 96.9 percent of its residents are white.
Lewiston's Somalis, who had come to the United States fleeing war in their chaotic African homeland, have been threatened before.
In 2003, after public remarks by the then-mayor about the growing Somali community, white supremacists converged on the city of 35,000 to stage a hate march against the "invasion" of the Somalis. The event generated international headlines.
Muslim minority in the West, particularly, the United States have been facing difficult times since the 9/11 attacks for many reasons, including the misunderstanding of Islam in the west, fueled by distorted media coverage, according to many observers.
Stephen Schwartz, the executive director of the US-based Center for Islamic Pluralism, has criticized the western media for failing to meet the challenge of reporting on Islam after the 9/11.
A May 2004 report released by the US Senate Office Of Research also concluded that the Arab Americans and the Muslim community in the United States have taken the brunt of the Patriot Act and other federal powers applied in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
The racist attack drove hundreds of fellow Americans to rally in support of the Muslim minority.
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