Recent anti-Muslim hate crime in St. Louis sheds light on national trend

    By: Christina Chastain

    Rabie Ayoub and Marwah Abdul Hussein’s daughter awoke one night in March from a nightmare.

    “Please don’t go there! He’s going to shoot you!” she screams at her brother, still drowsy and half asleep.

    The same night Ayoub and Hussein, while watching a movie, hear a cracking noise coming from the front of their apartment building.

    “Somebody’s coming and what are they going to do?” says Hussein. “They’re going to come burn the house and us.”

    Ayoub and Hussein are from Palestine and Iraq, where killing and bombing were of the daily norm.

    “People were getting shot. People were getting kidnapped for no reason, and then asking for ransoms,” Hussein said. “After the ransoms are taken, the victims are dead.”

    But the cause of these child nightmares and adult paranoia were not from their home countries. They were the result of a cruel occurrence in the United States. More specifically, Affton, Mo.

    Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 2.29.11 PM

    Marwah Abdul Hussein (L) and Rabie Ayoub (R) sit down with HEC-TV to talk about the Feb. 21 attack.

    On Feb. 21, Ayoub and Hussein were looking for a house to purchase for their large family after living in an apartment with their children for a number of years.

    Driving by a house they were interested in, they hear:

    “Damn you, Muslims! Damn you, Muslims! You should die!”

    Confused, the father, Ayoub says: “Sir, were you talking to me?”

    “Yes,” says Leonardo Debello, 71, of Affton, Mo. “I was talking to you. And we have to clean this country from people like you. You know, this state, it issues us guns to kill people like you. So we can do it.”

    Debello then went into his house and came out carrying a gun, pointed at the victims and said, “You, your wife and your kids have to die.”

    He then told them he would take a picture of their license plate and come “hunt them down.”

    “The kids were crying. The kids were screaming. You know, they’ve never experienced that,” said Ayoub. “He did affect our life. I don’t want my kids to see that. No one should see that. This is going to leave a scar for the rest of our life.”

    Faizan Syed, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-STL), said Islamophobia and hate crimes like this have escalated in recent months since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

    Leonardo Debello, 71, of Affton, Mo. threatened a local Muslim family with a gun.

    Leonardo Debello, 71, of Affton, Mo. threatened a local Muslim family with a gun.

    Syed believes the backlash is being fueled by rhetoric used in the 2016 presidential campaign, including calls from Republican front-runner Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

    “We have people running for president who are actually adding to the mainstream of Islamophobia,” said Syed. “It’s a terrible combination when people don’t know about us, and then they hear from – who should be – respectable figures, that Islam is a threat and acting on that.”

    According to a recent analysis based on reports from the news media and civil rights groups, the rate of suspected hate crimes against Muslims has tripled in recent months.

    The spike in hate crimes is a national event, including recent reports in Missouri.

    For example, Iraq veteran, Jedidiah Stout, 29, burned the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque to the ground in the last ten days of Ramadan. The mosque was an oasis for Muslims in the area, being the only mosque within a 50-mile radius.

    (Stout was also accused of making the same attempts on the local Planned Parenthood office.)

    In St. Louis, a man who identified as a “former Marine” called CAIR-STL, threatening to chop off the heads of any Muslims who came to his home.

    The latest hate crime in Missouri being the Feb. 21 incident in Affton, MO.

    “Some of the commonalities that these crimes have within the city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri are the ignorance of the person who commits these crimes,” said Syed. “Out of their ignorance, they have a misunderstanding of Islam and Muslims and they think we are a threat. And they feel they’re acting in a positive way to address that threat.”

    Republican political strategist Frank Luntz held a focus group for CBS News made up entirely of Muslim-Americans to find out how they were feeling in the wake of increased inflammatory political rhetoric. The bulk of the members in the group said they felt afraid for their physical safety.

    “All of my kids were born in this country. We are Americans,” said Ayoub. “And this was the first time they have felt different from the other kids. We are being treated like this because their dad is a little darker. I hate it because now I have to work hard just to take that mentality away from them. I don’t want them to start feeling like they’re being hated here.”

    Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 2.29.44 PM

    Faizan Syed, Executive Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-STL).

    Some Muslims have been working to reach out to their local communities in an effort to create awareness and demonstrate that they are loyal, peace-loving Americans.

    Here in St. Louis, many Muslims volunteer at many different organizations around the area, including many donating their time every Saturday morning at a local food pantry.

    “Muslims aren’t the enemy,” said Syed. “They’re coming here to rebuild their life. They’re coming here to make a better life for themselves.”

    Many Muslim-Americans have expressed hope and optimism, insisting that they would not back down from embracing their American identities.

    “We came here because we wanted to provide to our kids a safe country,” said Ayoub. “A country we have faith in. And that’s all. That’s all we aim for. We’re not trying to do anything wrong.”

    Look for the full story soon with exclusive interviews and footage on the next Impact.

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