To Salahuddin Ahmed, a 60 year-old immigrant from Bangladesh, “the US are the best country in the world to be a Muslim”. “In Bangladesh, I could go to jail for doing something like that, but here we’re free”, he says. On September 25th, he was standing a few blocks from the beach with his friends from ICNA, the Islamic Circle or North America, to spread the word. “I love Jesus because I’m muslim”.
As he reminds me when I ask about the statement, “Jesus wasn’t killed by muslims”. He hands out to me a free Quran and a dozen of brochures about “human rights in Islam”, “women in Islam”, or “Malcolm X, from darkness to light”. In between several attempts from him to tell me how we were all created by one God, I managed to get part of his story.
Salah, his shortened name, was born and raised in Bangladesh but has been living in the US for 37 years. He is a retired engineer, and now a fully committed proselyte. He and his coreligionists came all the way from the South and the East parts of Los Angeles to reach at the hip and trendy people from Venice, California. It was on a Sunday filled with food, music and a bright sun during the Abbot Kinney Festival, a yearly event that hit the mile-long Abbot Kinney Boulevard, described by the organizers as “the coolest block in America”.
The place is indeed known for “its eclectic boutiques, artisan eateries and influential art galleries”, the festival organizers emphasize on their website, and as a result (or a cause), the local crowd is pretty white. Which is a godsend for Salah’s cop friend, who works at the LAPD and seems happy to get a chance to talk to these people, and to a journalist.
“Don’t do like CNN and the others, please. We need to be shown under a more positive light these days”. He feels part of the reason why he wants to reach out to non-Muslims is to offset the way the media portray his religion and its aficionados.
He didn’t mention the Republican candidate Donald Trump who is probably the strongest anti-muslim voice in the American media. But in Venice, he’s clearly not here to try to convince Trump supporters, who are not many in this progressive city (even if I saw and heard a loud one).
Like in France, the past year in the US has been marked by several attacks carried in the name of Islam. The shooting that occurred in nearby San Bernardino on December 2nd and killed 14 persons, injuring 22 others, wasn’t far from Salah’s ICNA office, located in Corona. Both cities are part of a suburban area called Inland Empire, for which Salah is the outreach coordinator.
Six months later, the attack was followed by the one in Orlando, Florida, where an armed man killed 49 people and wounded 53 in a gay nightclub.
Salah says he hasn’t really felt any backlash against his religious community, but a recent study showed that hate crimes against Muslims surged by 122% in California between 2014 and 2015 (even before the Orlando massacre). Researchers at Cal State San Bernardino reported that “Anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias events went from 18 in 2014 to 40 in 2015” in the Golden State. This is the highest increase rate across the country, at least among the 20 States which were reported in this study based on police data. In total, there were 196 reported crimes in 2015, up from 110 in 2014. According to the New York Times, hate crimes against Muslims are at “the highest levels since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks”.