What started as a fun trip to Lake Chelan over the recent Labor Day weekend turned into an unsettling ordeal for 25-year-old Ahmed Brown of Bellevue and eight of his friends.
The group of young men, all of whom are Muslim college students who have attended Bellevue College and the University of Washington, used two cars to drive to the lake—one a privately owned Prius and the other a BMW sedan rented through the Zipcar car-sharing service.
When the friends returned to their vehicles after two hours on the lake in rented jet skis, they found one side of the BMW was extensively scratched with a key. Vandals had also written the racist phrases "Sand N**gers" and "Doon Goons" (sic) in permanent marker on the vehicle, along with a "crudely drawn penis and a pair of breasts," Brown said.
"Although my friend who had rented the car and the rest of us were upset, I felt like none of us were all that surprised," said Brown, citing other recent anti-Muslim crimes elsewhere in the country. (Click on video above to see Brown's full account of the incident.)
Brown, who lives in Bellevue and is to begin studying for a degree in computer science this fall at UW-Bothell, was the only one of the group comfortable enough to speak about the incident during a Friday morning news conference at the Seattle offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties organization.
"I feel like I wanted to do this in order, one, to please God by standing up for justice, and, two, to stand up on behalf of Muslims everywhere who are fearful of disclosing their identity," he said.
The young man who rented the BMW is still working with Zipcar to determine how much he will have to pay for the damage, Brown said, adding that his friend expects to pay a minimum of $750 based on the rental company's policies.
CAIR representatives said the Chelan incident is just the latest in a series of discriminatory acts directed at local Muslims.
In May, a Bellevue woman wearing a headscarf at Snoqualmie Falls was approached by an unknown man who made a comment about her head covering and proceeded to try to grab her "with his full body, as though he was trying to hug her," according to a letter CAIR sent to the Snoqualmie Police Department. The man fled when the woman ran toward her husband, according to CAIR.
Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of CAIR's Washington chapter, said anti-Muslim "hate speech" by political and religious leaders has led to ongoing acts of violence toward Muslim Americans across the country.
CAIR is calling for the FBI to investigate the Chelan incident as a hate crime and also asking for local leaders to denounce the act in public so as to send a message that Washington state does not tolerate such behavior.
"It's horrifying that someone would have to go through this," Bukhari said. "This is taking us backwards—it's not how America works."
Bukhari specifically applauded in which a threatening note was left on a Muslim woman's car. Marchione set a good example for how local leaders should respond to other attacks, Bukhari said.
Brown, meanwhile, said he is upset over what happened in Chelan but does not live in fear of future attacks.
"I'd go (back) to Lake Chelan tomorrow," he said. "I'm not going to be intimidated by something like this."
What do you think local leaders can or should do to combat acts of violence or vandalism directed toward Muslims? Let us know in the comments section.