Last week a trio of Muslim hijabi college students – Yasmeen Alsaker, Sara Ebrahim and Tania Khaliq – were traveling on a New Jersey light rail when a 62 year old man, Patrick Pietropaolo, verbally abused them and then, spat on them.
Alsaker recounted the incident in a Facebook post on the day of the attack. “I finished school and took the lightrail to get to [Newark] penn station with my two Muslim hijaby friends. We sat down, a man was sitting behind us. He started cursing us out. My friend turned around to see whats going on, and then turned back. The man stood up and said: Why are you staring at me ha? Why are you staring at me, you F***ing Muslim B**tch.” The man then spat on one of the three young women.
Nobody on the train intervened to help the three students.
Although Pietropaolo was later arrested by the New Jersey Transit Police Department and charged with simple assault, bias intimidation, theft of service, and resisting arrest (for running away from the light rail), the attack has left the three young students shaken, for obvious reasons.
One of the young women, Sara Ebrahim, explained that she was “feeling awful,” and that she started “crying out of the blue” during a tutoring session the day after the incident.
The students expressed their concerns about the increasing hateful rhetoric and Islamophobic political climate that stalks Muslim-Americans, especially visibly-Muslim women, everywhere they go.
Indeed, anti-Muslim hate crimes have only increased over the course of this election season. When a front-runner of this race explicitly says “Islam hates us” or promises to kick all Muslims out of the United States, it’s not surprising that bigots feel encouraged and find it acceptable to attack a vulnerable group of people.
More and more Muslims are reporting incidents where they are explicitly or implicitly targeted simply because they identify as Muslim. A lot of are seriously afraid for their security in spaces that are supposed to be safe, such as a vehicle for public transportation. The fact that people are afraid to intervene, as was in this case, is even scarier.
The current situation for Muslims seems to be spiraling downwards due to the rhetoric against Islam in the news today, especially since the GOP debates began. Ultimately, these crimes that Muslims are witnessing and experiencing will cause more of an effect on the victims than the cuts or bruises, and the psychological impact will eventually have to be addressed as well. With that thought, is it possible to undo the damage?