On Dec. 19, I joined local leaders to renew the declaration that Washington state is a “hate-free zone.” As an American-Muslim woman and the executive director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN), a new initiative of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), this event had special significance to me. In the month preceding the press conference, maps had its sign viciously attacked twice in clear acts of hate. And I personally have experienced acts of ignorance and hate, while some of my friends have faced physical attacks and assaults, simply on account of our religion.
These are not isolated incidents. They follow our nation’s highest record of reported hate crimes against American Muslims in 2015, with 2016 on track to be even worse. When hate speech and conspiracy theories against an American minority go constantly unchallenged, they lead to hate crimes. And that is what we are seeing.
Given this background, I was proud that U.S. Rep.-elect Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, took action, just as she had before. In 2001, when Arab, Muslim and immigrant communities faced an increase in hate crimes, Jayapal partnered with U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, to declare Washington a “Hate Free Zone.” The movement morphed into the advocacy group Hate Free Zone (later, renamed OneAmerica), which has defended the rights of minority communities over the past 15 years.
Now, in light of the recent surge of hate incidents against minorities, including American Muslims, Jayapal organized the Dec. 19 event to renew the commitment for Washington to remain a state where all members of our community — regardless of religion, national origin, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or disability — are treated with dignity and respect.
Many joined her, including Governor Jay Inslee, U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene, Adam Smith, Derek Kilmer, Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Chris Reykdal, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle City Council members Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold along with other public officials, interfaith leaders and community activists.
Jayapal denounced the rise in hate rhetoric and hate crimes against American Muslims and other communities. Inslee emphasized that Washington will continue to welcome families seeking refuge to stand up for the rights of dreamers (DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). And DelBene spoke of her “No Religious Registry Act” to prevent registration based on religion.
As the new MAPS-AMEN Executive Director, I was honored to take the stage and remind the audience that each of us has the incredible power through our actions and words, especially amplified through mainstream media, to counter hate, change hearts and minds, and possibly prevent hate crimes. In 2017, MAPS-AMEN will work with many of the organizations and offices represented at the press conference to do just that. For now, we sincerely thank Jayapal for her leadership, her team for putting together the powerful event, the other leaders who stood in solidarity and all who attended in support.
While some may dismiss the December press conference as mere words, the reality is that words have power and consequence. We see this with hate speech leading to hate crimes. It is important for fair-minded leaders to speak out, and for minority communities to hear their leaders publicly and vocally condemn hate attacks, stand on our shared American values of religious freedom and diversity, and promise safety for all in our community.
While the words alone are not enough, they are a start. I look forward to working with those who wish to ensure that we turn those words into action. When our foundational values such as civil and religious liberties are threatened, Americans from all political backgrounds, whether liberal or conservative, must act. Let’s unite behind our shared American values and work together to stop hate crime in our state and affirm that love is far greater than hate. To learn how you can get involved, email email@example.com.
Aneelah Afzali is the executive director of MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network).