Burned texts left at Islamic Center

Thursday, June 16, 2005
Blacksburg police have not determined if the Qurans were burned as a hate crime.
BLACKSBURG – Members of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg were stunned when they arrived at the building for prayers Saturday afternoon.
Outside the building, a plastic shopping bag filled with burned copies of the Quran sat in front of the door. Blacksburg police say they do not have any leads on who left the burned religious books, but they are investi gating the incident as a possible hate crime.
On Tuesday afternoon, as a group of men gathered at the center, 20-year-old Idris Adjerid said he was disgusted about what happened to the sacred books.
“I think it is a shame that people are so ignorant,” he said.
Adjerid said he has attended the center since 1997 and nothing like this has ever happened before. He said an e-mail is being circulated among Muslims in the New River Valley discussing the incident and how they should react to it.
“People are just very disappointed,” he said.
Blacksburg police Lt. Donnie Goodman said he reported the incident to the Virginia State Police, which compiles hate crime statistics, but he also said the department is not sure whether the Quran burning is a hate crime or not.
To be considered a hate crime, Goodman said police must be able to show that the act was meant to intimidate or harass. He said police are trying to find out if that is the case here.
“We have to look at all possibilities. We are not trying to discount anything, we are just trying to find out what happened,” he said.
Laila Al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday questioned how police could consider the act anything other than a hate crime.
“Let’s face it, books don’t burn themselves and end up outside of a mosque. It’s a willful act,” she said.
Al-Qatami said hate crimes against Muslims have increased steadily since 9/11 and spike whenever a national anti-Muslim act is covered by the media.
She said recent reports of Quran desecration have set off copy-cat acts across the country.
“We have seen similar things where rocks are thrown through windows, graffiti is sprayed on walls and prayers are disrupted. We see this both in large cities and small towns,” she said.
Al-Qatami said the best way police can help stop hate crimes against Muslims is to treat all religions equally. “I think if someone burned pages from the Bible there would be a certain reaction. This should be the same across the board.”
Goodman said that is exactly how Blacksburg police are treating this case.
“I’ve got two detectives working on this. We are trying to do everything we can to get some leads to help us find a conclusion to this,” he said.
John Harrison, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said defining an act as a hate crime is not as easy as people outside law enforcement might imagine.
For example, if a person is assaulted, it is a crime. If that crime is motivated by race, religion or ethnic origin it becomes a hate crime, which carries a greater penalty.
If it is unclear whether or not the act is a crime – as could be the case in dropping off burned copies of the Quran in front of a building – Harrison said police have to show that the act was done to intimidate or harass an individual or group because of their race, religion or national origin.
And that can be the hard part, Harrison said.
But the legal questions didn’t mean much to Adjerid, who called the Quran burning hateful and wrong.
“People should open their minds to new ideas and be more tolerant of others.”
By Joe Eaton
The Roanoke Times

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