NYC Firebombings Highlight Growing Islamophobia, Say Interfaith Group

The nation’s religious leaders have rallied in condemnation of the firebomb attacks against four New York locations on New Year’s Day, the most violent of which targeted the mosque located at the Imam al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation in the Queens borough of New York City.

Leaders of Muslim tolerance organization Shoulder-to-Shoulder (Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values) released a statement Wednesday, condemning the attacks.

Shoulder-to-Shoulder says that 2012 is a time to be especially conscious of persecution toward Muslim, South Asians, and Arabs.

"By responding to the teachings of our respective faith traditions we are compelled to condemn the violence aimed at every faith tradition, to support those who have been the victims of such crimes, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the violence that continues to affect our society," read the organization's statement

The attacks happened successively Sunday night when the attacker threw Molotov cocktails at a Muslim-run bodega, three private residences, and the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation building. Two of the homes belonged to those of the Hindu and Christian communities.

Ray Lazier Lengend was arrested in connection with the attacks and charged with five counts of criminal possession of a weapon, four counts of arson and one count of arson as a hate crime. According to New York City Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne, Lengend had a "gripe with someone at each location" he targeted.

Lengend reportedly told the NYPD that he was trying to settle scores with people who had wronged him. A source told CNN that Lengend allegedly attacked the bodega because he was thrown out for shoplifting; he allegedly attacked the home in Elmond, Long Island, due to a bad relationship with an in-law; and the home in Jamaica, Queens due to a botched relationship with a drug dealer.

Although Shoulder-to-Shoulder expresses relief that the bombings were done due to personal grievances, the organization says "our relief at this fact does not remove the burden we feel to ensure those affected by the attacks receive the help they need to make repairs and feel safe again in their homes and houses of worship."

Although Shoulder-to-Shoulder confirms that the attacks were not based on religious hatred, the Muslim-Peace Coalition USA argues that the crimes highlight a deeper problem between New York City's Muslim population and the NYPD. 

Sunday’s attack heightens the tension of New York’s Muslim population, who argue that there is an intensified growth of "Islamophobia" in the United States after the terrorist attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

According to CNN, within six days of the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI reported it had initiated investigations into 40 hate crimes directed at Muslims, South Asians, and Arabs. 

The Muslim-Peace Coalition USA says the police are partially to blame for Islamophobia. At a meeting between New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Muslim religious leaders Tuesday, the coalition issued a statement saying the NYPD has unjustifiably targeted Muslims as terrorist suspects, and continues "to keep the whole Muslim community under warrantless surveillance."

Muslims New Yorkers have become outspoken about the NYPD's counterterrorism tactics. In December, 15 Muslim clerics and civic leaders boycotted an interfaith breakfast held by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The boycott was in response to a report from  The Associated Press that the NYPD was using spies to aggressively monitor Muslim neighborhoods.