CHICAGO — A group of Muslim girls celebrating Ramadan were told to “leave” the country by a man in an obscenity- and slur-peppered rant caught on video.
Sawim Osman, 17, has lived in and around Chicago throughout her entire life — but she was one of the girls the man targeted during the incident in a Hickory Hills Pepe’s restaurant, where a man insulted them and made them fear they’d be attacked, she said.
No one in the restaurant tried to help the girls, Osman said. The incident comes amid a national rise in hate crimes against Muslims, and Osman’s mother described it as a “cut and dry” example of Islamophobia.
“We’re all very glad that we stood up for ourselves and we didn’t let this racist bigot just get away with calling us names,” Osman said.
On Monday night, Osman and her friends — all of them teen girls — went to the Pepe’s at 8128 95th St. after fasting throughout the day for Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims. After getting up to leave, they heard an older man, who they hadn’t spoken to or looked at, make a remark about a “camel.”
The girls “automatically knew” the comment was about them, thinking he’d used a racial slur, Osman said. They asked the man, who appeared to be white and elderly, what he’d said.
The man pointed to one of the girls and said, “She’s so big she’ll break a camel’s back.”
The man was mocking one of the girls, trying to shame her weight, and mocking their culture, said Catherine Bronson, who is Osman’s mother and an Islamic Studies professor at Notre Dame.
“Go and beat it. You don’t like it in this country, leave,” the man told the girls, as shown in a video one of the girls recorded.
“This is our home, too. What do you mean, ‘leave’?” Osman said.
“I just said she was a big one. What’s the problem? … Anything else?” the man said.
“Yeah, you’re disgusting,” one of the girls told the man while another girl said they should leave.
The man stood and the girls, fearing he was about to attack them, started to walk away, Osman and Bronson said.
But the man called after them and can be heard in the video saying, “Hang on. You f——, godd— camel-jacking motherf——.”
They were “very scared,” Osman said. “It looked like he was ready to physically attack us. … We were just going out to dinner. Why did he have to ruin our time?”
The girls were particularly frightened because the rant came just days after an incident in Portland, Oregon, where officials said two men were stabbed to death while trying to defend Muslim girls from a man who was ranting at them.
“Because of all the incidents lately, particularly the one in Portland, they didn’t know if this person has a gun or a knife or if he’s going to get physical,” Bronson said. “A 70-year-old man rising to encounter girls who he just fat-shamed, that predicts or indicates some sort of underlying condition, even if it’s just racism.”
Pepe’s Incorporated apologized for the incident and said it “condemns and rejects all discriminatory comments and actions” toward employees and customers in a statement. The restaurant has banned the man who made the comments.
Osman, Bronson and the girls have been speaking out about what the man said, trying to raise awareness of what happened and hoping to identify the man for police.
“This happened to us, and thankfully we caught it on video,” Osman said. “But this happens all the time … . It’s just really unacceptable and unfair. We’re all part of this country just as much as him, for example, or other racist people.”
Osman had never before experienced that degree of Islamophobia, she and Bronson said.
Bronson went to the University of Chicago for her Ph.D. and lived with Osman in Hyde Park for years, but even when Bronson wore a veil there she “never experienced one iota of discrimination,” she said. It’s “very different” in the southwest suburbs, which she described as “awful.”
Police are investigating the incident, Bronson said, and she’s told her daughter she should call 911 if anything happens in the future.
“Who knows what could have transpired?” Bronson said.