At 3 am on March 24, a unknown individual attempted to set fire to the Dar-Ul-Arqam Mosque in Central Escondido, in the North. County region of San Diego County. If this terrible act of hate wasn’t enough, graffiti was found at the site referencing the recent New Zealand massacre at Christchurch, where 50 were killed and dozens were injured. A Liberation News reporter arrived on the scene to see what the community could do about this shocking act of Islamophobia.
The following interview is a transcript of an audio interview Liberation News had with Yusef Miller, a board member of the Islamic Society of North County, who helps run the Mosque.
Liberation News: How did you first find out about it (the attack)?
Yusef Miller: Well, it was running on the news really, really, early. So people were sending me news clips that this was happening and I was on my way to to an event so I turn around, cancelled all my events, and I came here early in the morning, and they’ve been blocked off since 3 am. So we couldn’t get really get to it and we just stood from about 8 am to 2 pm until they let us in. They wouldn’t have single person just standing out there. So that’s how I heard about it, through the news, and a lot of people contacting me on my phone and social media. I’m like, yo, I’m already here, you know, so that’s how I found out.
LN: What was the first thing that went through your mind when you found out about the arson?
YM: The first thought was, “Man, right in my back yard.” Yeah. I mean, it’s like man nobody is immune and nobody’s buffered from this. Yeah, and it can happen anywhere. Yeah. I’m like Escondido is not a bustling place, you know, I mean, so if it can happen here, it can happen to anyone anywhere. Right?
LN: Right. Yeah, actually it hits close to home for me as well because I do live in Escondido, and I grew up here too. Has anything like this ever occurred in the past?
YM: Not here in Escondido. I mean, we’ve had small things, you know people showing up to our mouths that are not really our friends. Okay and saying things that we don’t appreciate but there was no no aggressive action.
LN: So you would say this is an escalation?
YM: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, by far. No one has even got into an argument just small discussions and then we know, we had religious leaders from either their sect or whatever talk them down, and then they stop coming for it. But no one has ever done anything violent until now.
LN: How do you feel about how our government officials respond to attacks like these?
YM: Well here in Escondido. Yeah, the mayor and Deputy Mayor they’re going to be here tonight. A lot of people show their support. There’s a law enforcement officer across the street. Okay. I know they increased their presence, so it’s been very positive. Just one week ago. We had a vigil over here at Maple Street Plaza and here one week exactly you have this incident happened. They had they were vigilant then and they have heightened their awareness to where we are.
LN: How about on the national level?
YM: Well nationally, you know nationally just just heightened hate rhetoric has been going on all over the nation, and it’s just that’s why this didn’t surprise me. And it didn’t surprise a lot of people because nationally this has been going around and escalating and the racism has always been here in this nation. Yeah, but it has been escalating lately under this new administration, and we’re not that surprised that it happened. Most people are just surprised that it happened here, you know, so we were vigilant anyway, but now it’s I asked all the Muslims throughout San Diego County to be hyper-vigilant.
LN: So in regards to this, it might be too soon to tell, and past events and in regards to future events, do you think enough is being done to either prevent something like this from happening?
YM: Well, I just really think that when people get it in their hearts and minds you can’t prevent them from doing anything. Right? But I’m really impressed with the outpour of sympathy and solidarity from our other interfaith groups, our other social activist groups. Like you saw the Brown Berets were here. A lot of people have been blowing up my phone and blowing up my email with…
LN: Community solidarity?
YM: Oh, yes across North County, East County, South County, everybody is like “We’re coming.” So that’s been the beautiful part of it. And I think that’s where our solution lies. I don’t think that law enforcement or or even government officials can affect change more than the people themselves, and the people is where the power is, the people is where the heart is so and I’ve seen that.
LN: So, the masses are the ones, you would say, who could efficiently stop the resurgence of fascism and white nationalism?
YM: Exactly, it doesn’t matter what personality is in charge or anything. They got to be super charismatic which we haven’t seen for a while, right?
YM: They have to be super charismatic to cause people to get into that frenzy of justice, but when it comes from the people, from the grassroots, we can easily get people to coalesce around each other.
LN: If you could say anything to the person who undertook this arson attack, what would you say?
YM: I will say your hatred is misdirected. You should really look at the cause of your fear and your anxiety, and see that it’s not your brothers and sisters. It’s the system, the system’s tricked you; the system pits one against another, and to really dig inside your heart and see that it’s not the people, it’s the system. Right?
LN: Yes, I agree! What should non-Muslims and people who consider themselves allies do in response to this, and also, what can they do to prevent it from happening again?
YM: The best thing to do is to show up, you know, when issues like this are going on, in solidarity, and talk to your friends, talk to people, to let them know that Muslims are just people. Jews are just people. Christians are just people. Atheists are just people. We’re all just people, so there’s no need to go to any extreme to take people off the face of the Earth. You talk, understand your differences, and go your separate ways if you can’t agree, but don’t rise to the to the level of harming another human being. I think, regarding the non-Muslims, the best thing for you to do, for us to do, is have fellowship, show up, and talk.
LN: So, recently at the at the United Nations, there was a resolution to condemn Nazism and fascism and all the countries in the UN voted for it except for the United States, Ukraine, and Palau, and I was wondering, do things like that on the international level contribute to crimes like this?
YM: Yes, it gives validation to those people who hate us. They say that, okay on a national level, or on a executive level if they feel that this kind of action is okay, whether they say explicitly or implicitly, that validates their actions, and I think that’s what we’re seeing. The people are coming out of the woodworks. They were always there, but they’re coming out of the woodwork because they feel validated by executive decisions.
LN: By saying “They were always there” are you implying that white supremacy is at the root or a foundation of this nation?
YM: There is no such thing as a time, since the colonization of this country, when this country has been free of racism, or sexism, or any type of xenophobia. So it’s [white supremacy] a part of our country that we don’t want to admit it out loud. And that is a part of our fabric that needs to be cut out. You can’t just ignore it. It’s part of our fabric, and when you when you see it, or when you expose that fabric, it comes out and it shows itself, but people think that it’s like, oh we have interracial dating. We have more people of color on TV, and all that kind of stuff, and more people of color in political office, they think that means it’s gone. It absolutely does not.
LN: The roots haven’t been addressed is what you are saying?
YM: Yes, exactly. The roots have not been addressed.
This act of racism and xenophobia is yet another terrible chapter in the long history of white supremacy in the U.S.. A vigil was held the very evening after this interview was conducted.