BPD chief says backlash against Muslims won’t be tolerated
Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans and interfaith leaders visited New England’s largest mosque Friday, offering words of support two days after a Muslim couple carried out a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif.
Evans said his department was on guard against a possible backlash targeting the Muslim community following the rampage.
“I just want to let you know that we won’t tolerate that,” Evans said. The California shooting is being investigated as an act of terrorism and came less than three weeks after Islamic State operatives launched an assault in Paris that killed 130.
Evans asked hundreds of worshipers at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center to alert police if they have information on potential crime. “We’re all in this together,” he said. “If you see something, you gotta say something.”
The congregation responded with applause, as they did following words of solidarity from the Rev. Burns Stanfield, president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston; Rabbi Matthew Soffer of Temple Israel, Boston’s largest Reform synagogue; and the Rev. Daniel Smith, senior minister of First Church Cambridge.
The religious figures’ support undermines “ISIS and their propaganda, because they seek to divide,” said Anwar Kazmi, an Islamic Society of Boston trustee. “Their message to Muslims is, ‘These people are your enemies.’ ”
Yusufi Vali, executive director of the cultural center, said the Muslim community “has been feeling a lot of pressure” amid heated political rhetoric and reports of rising anti-Muslim sentiment.
But he said Boston Muslims have not faced hostility akin to what has confronted Muslims elsewhere in the nation.
“Boston is different,” Vali said. “It is a place where people do come together. That division, that rhetoric exists out there, but that’s not what Boston is about.”
Still, some Muslims expressed frustration that their community is seen as uniquely violent, even though mass shootings have become an almost daily phenomenon in the United States, with most carried out by non-Muslims.
And they said they are disgusted by what they regard as the stoking of anti-Muslim sentiment by politicians, particularly GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has said he would consider closing mosques and requiring Muslims to register in a national database.
“It inflames fear and turns neighbors against one another,” said Raiyan Syed, a media strategist from West Roxbury.
Still, Leanne Scorzoni, a convert who lives in Roxbury, said she feels a searing mixture of anger and despair when Muslim extremists are the perpetrators of violence.
“It’s a huge feeling of helplessness,” she said.
And despite the relative calm in Boston, some worry about tensions boiling over.
On Friday, an Iowa man was sentenced to home confinement and probation for posting online threats against the Boston cultural center in October 2014. “We will destroy you here and in your (expletive) countrys,” he wrote.
A trio of 13-year-old girls who attend Malik Academy, the elementary school at the cultural center, said they have not been allowed to play outside during recess lately because of safety concerns.
Imam Yasir Fahmy told the congregation Friday the Prophet Muhammad once said that, in the chaos of Judgment Day, anyone who happens to be holding a seedling of a palm should plant it.
“He expects us to be proactive, no matter how chaotic the world may be,” he said.
Smith, of First Church Cambridge, told those gathered that his congregants were preparing for Christmas, “the story of a holy migrant family living in a violent time.”
He spoke of how the angel Gabriel heralded the birth of Jesus with the words, “Fear not!”
“Some would seek to divide us, Muslims from Christians from Jews,” he said. “Today, though, we stand together.”