CAIR director Jacob Bender says Philadelphia Muslims ‘apprehensive’ following attacks

Listen
 Jacob Bender, the executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Center for American-Islamic Relations. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Jacob Bender, the executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Center for American-Islamic Relations. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Those of many faiths gathered for a candlelight vigil at Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square Thursday night. 

They prayed for an end to fear mongering — in light of the terrorist attacks at the hands of extremist Muslims in Paris and California — and for healing after a hate crime at a Philadelphia mosque.

For some insight into how Muslims are faring in the city recently, “Morning Edition” host Jennifer Lynn spoke with Jacob Bender who leads the city’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He spoke of a wave of apprehension in the community.

“When the news first breaks, there’s almost a tightening up of ‘let it not be another Muslim extremist’ who will drag our way of life, our tradition, our religion of peace into the mud of violence and extremism and horror,” Bender said, while noting that he is hopeful of the experiences in Philadelphia.

“Of course we hear of children being taunted on the schoolyard being called ‘Osama’ and ‘ISIS’ — and I don’t mean to minimize the experiences of these kids — but there have not been the sort of horrific, violent attacks and rallies against Muslims that we have seen in other cities,” Bender said. “For that, Philadelphians should feel pride in their city and their mayor.”

The Monday incident of a pig’s head being thrown at the Al Aqsa Islamic Society and instances of children being bullied have been part of the increased tension toward Muslim and Arab-Americans in the weeks following the attacks. Bender said that the community has been coming to the defense of city Muslims in light of what Bender called a “stupid act of desecration.” 

Bender says that CAIR and other Muslim community organizations also quickly and soundly denounce violent acts such as those in Paris and San Bernardino. Yet, they are still subjected to the repeated questions of “why don’t they condemn these attacks?”

“There are still people on the radio, on TV, politicians saying, ‘Why aren’t Muslim leaders condemning this violence,'” said Bender, the first Jewish leader of a Muslim organization. “We can only do what we can do and hope that the media covers the story in a fair and unbiased way. It doesn’t always happen.”

Bender, who was raised in Los Angeles and has been in Philadelphia for two years, said fears about Islam and extremism have begun to mirror parts of this county’s past.

“Islam and Muslims have replaced Communism and Communists of the McCarthy era,” Bender said, referencing the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. “The bogeyman has replaced Communists with Muslims,” Bender said. “People are imagining this creeping Sharia taking over the country as senators in the ’50s saw Communists under every bed in every movie in Hollywood.”

To hear the full “Morning Edition” interview with CAIR-Philadelphia’s Jacob Bender, including his thoughts on Donald Trump and on being a Jewish man leading a Muslim organization, press play at the top of the page.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.