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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Kids kicked out of city pool highlights deteriorating situation for US Muslims

Muslims in the US say that the situation is worse since President Donald Trump took office

Shepard Fairey's famous image has been used to defend the status of Muslims in the United States. AP
Shepard Fairey's famous image has been used to defend the status of Muslims in the United States. AP

A group of Muslim children have received an apology from the mayor of Wilmington, Delaware after being asked to leave a public swimming pool because of their clothing.

The incident, which took place last month, appeared to be the latest manifestation of mounting problems faced by members of the Muslim community in the US, especially since the election of Donald Trump.

It is estimated there are 3.35 million Muslims living in the US. Most are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.

In the latest incident, staff at the pool objected to the cotton headscarves, shorts and shirts being worn by the children.

This was the fourth year the children, who were participating in an Arabic enrichment programme run by the Islamic education organisation Darul-Amaanah Academy, had used the Foster Brown public pool in Wilmington.

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Previously there had been no problems, but on this occasion, the pool manager said it was “against city policy” to wear cotton in pools.

"There’s nothing posted that says you can’t swim in cotton," said Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel, the academy’s owner and director of the summer programme.

"At the same time, there are other kids with cotton on. … I asked, 'Why are my kids being treated differently?”

Michael Purzycki, Wilmington’s mayor, was quick to apologise, saying staff at the pool had exercised poor judgment.

“We should be held accountable for what happened and how poorly we assessed this incident," he said.

“I apologise to the children who were directed to leave a city pool because of the religious-required clothing they were wearing.”

But the apology has failed to satisfy Muslim Advocates, a campaign and legal support group which has taken up the case.

"Under the guise of ‘safety’ concerns, the pool staff has repeatedly kept children – some of them preschoolers – from enjoying the pool with their friends. Wilmington’s African-Americans and Muslims deserve better,” said Juvaria Khan, staff attorney with the organisation.

“The behaviour of the pool staff is unacceptable, and despite repeated complaints from Darul Amaanah Academy, this gross mistreatment continues. An empty apology from the mayor is not enough, if it’s not backed with action."

The pool incident is further evidence of problems being faced by Muslims in the US which ranges from petty harassment to abuse and occasional violence.

Last year a Pew Research Centre study showed that anxiety has been growing in the community in the wake of the election of Donald Trump.

Nearly half said they had been the victims of at least one discriminatory incident during the previous year and nearly one in five said they had been called an offensive name.

Anxiety has been heightened by last month’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Mr Trump’s executive order imposing an entry ban on citizens from several Muslim majority countries.

Earlier this month, Hassane Elbaz, a Manhattan food vendor, was assaulted by a man who he said had been hurling insults at him for several weeks.

In May, a study carried out by the University of Warwick in the UK found a direct correlation between the level of hate crimes and anti-Muslim tweets by the US president.

Research by New America, a non-partisan think tank based in Washington DC, shows anti-Muslim activity in the US peaked following the 2015 Paris and San Bernardino attacks and has been higher since Mr Trump took office than before.

Even elected officials have displayed hostility: Hardy King, the mayor of the South Carolina town of Irmo, used his Facebook account to launch an attack on Muslims sharing a number of offensive posts and memes.

In a number of states including West Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Missouri legislation has been proposed to outlaw the application of “foreign” - meaning Sharia - law.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, mosques across the country have been facing harassment in various forms from physical attacks to attempts to deny planning permission and building permits.

“In recent years, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked,” said the ACLU.

“Although these sentiments manifest themselves in many ways, attacks on mosques directly take aim at religious freedom.”

There are fears that in some parts of the US the authorities are turning a blind eye to Islamophobic incidents.

For example, in Phoenix, Arizona two female members of the nationalist hard-line libertarian-leaning militia and anti-government group the “Patriot Movement” filmed themselves ignoring a no-trespassing sign at an Islamic Community centre and then stealing a number of items, including a Quran.

They were also filmed encouraging their children to vilify Muslims.The group disowned the women, insisting in Facebook that it is firmly against racism and bigotry.

The women, who are facing an array of charges including burglary and criminal damage, are reportedly unlikely to face trial because of a plea deal being negotiated with the county attorney.

“What has been driving this is a belief that American Muslims are taking from America, rather than giving to America,” said Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Muslim Affairs Council.

“We need to change the conversation to show how much Muslims are contributing to our society.

“There is bullying and harassment and there are people who want to take matters into their own hands.

“When you look at the situation with Trump, you see he has given legitimacy to racism and bigotry.”

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