“You killed in the Boston marathon. You people killed Christians. You deserve to die.” Bam. A broken jaw.
On April 26th, 2013 Muhammad Salim, a Somali-American picked taxicab driver, picked up Edward Dahlberg from the Fairfax Country Club in Virginia.
The conversation meandered from Salim’s place of birth to Dahlberg’s Manassas-based company, Emerald Aviation, but quickly escalated into an expletive-laden diatribe against Islam and Muslims and threats of violence from Dahlberg.
Salim has had several agitated customers before but says that he does not take their comments personally, and tries to calm them down.
Questions on the meaning of jihad followed. Salim says he tried to explain the concept of different kinds of jihad, or “struggle” to Dahlberg but “he did not like my answer.”
Sensing that his life could be in danger, Salim started recording the conversation.
“The way he was cursing, he [seemed] like a violent person. I did not know if he was armed; I was praying secretly to God. I was helpless; he lives in a rich area and if something will happen to me to, I need to defend myself,” said Salim. He told the attacker that he is recording, but that did not faze him.
“I will slice your [expletive] throat right now!" Dahlberg clearly said on the recording. Minutes later outside the cab, says Salim, Dahlberg struck Salim on the side of his face.
Ed Dahlberg is a resident of Clifton, VA, the same small town where the Republican Women of Clifton hosted an anti-Muslim speech a few months back. Dahlberg turned himself into the Fairfax police but is out on bond. Police charged him with a misdemeanor assault.
Salims’s attorney, Gadeir Abbass and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) would like the prosecutor to upgrade the charges to a felony hate crime to reflect the severity of the crime. “Criminal law is the standard of conduct of a community and certain acts are outside acceptable behavior. The prosecutor has to send a clear message to the American Muslim community and the entire country that hate has no place in our society,” says Abbass.
“This is not an issue of being a decent person, these actions are illegal and need to be dealt with accordingly,” added Abbass.
A naturalized citizen, Salim served as an Army reservist in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay as a linguist and cultural advisor.
Salim came to the U.S. in 1998 seeking political asylum, fleeing from persecution in Somalia. He said he joined the army to give back to the country that helped him and gave him respect.
“I escaped persecution to find peace. Now I do not feel like I belong even after being a sacrificing, law abiding citizen,” Salim told the Muslim Link. “They ask me, are you safe?” he said of his family of four children and his wife.
Dahlberg’s attorney, Demetry Pikrallidas, insists that there was no assault.
Muhammad Salim is paying for his medical treatment out of pocket. He is currently not working while he recovers. He still suffers pain, blurred vision and has lost hearing in one ear.
Some critics have called the extensive media coverage over a small incident, from Russian TV to CNN, pandering to the Muslims. Abbass says the compelling video caused great outrage.
Anti-Muslim rhetoric emanating from powerful sources such as politicians like Michele Bachmann eventually lead to violence. The aftermath of the Boston Bombing has caused a spike in the rhetoric about profiling and surveillance of Muslim community at large. Rhetoric often leads to policies. ”When politicians make anti-Muslim statements it corroborates, perhaps, the ignorance of some Americans and raises innocent ignorance to hardened forms of bigotry that will inevitably lead to acts of violence,” says Abbass.
“What happened to Muhammad is not particularly unique to American Muslims. Anti-Muslim violence is common. What is unique is that he has it recorded; it is very rare that [the public] gets to hear the ugliness of anti-Muslim prejudice,” says Abbass.
Jihadist, terrorist, Muslim- these words keeping echoing in Salim’s mind. He is having a hard time accepting that someone would assume that he was a terrorist just because he is a Muslim.
“Ed Dahlberg... as wild as his ideas are -- they came from somewhere. They are a result of a toxic mixture of tolerance of mainstream outlets for anti-Muslim bigotry,” says Abbass. If they were regarding any other religious, ethnic, racial groups they would not be tolerated, he said.
The Pew Research survey, released earlier this month, found that 42 percent of Americans believe Islam is "more likely" than other religions to encourage violence among believers while 46 percent say it's not any more likely to promote violence than other faiths.
Other taxi-cab driver colleagues have also suffered similar treatment but have not come out publicly. Salim says that he was also verbally harassed for being Muslim during his time in the army. Even a Muslim sounding name often leads to harassment in the Army, as a May 10, 2013 Christian Post report shows. Soldier Nadia Hosan, a christian, suffered on-going harassment from fellow soldiers because of her Muslim sounding name.
On May 6, 2013, an 82 year old Sikh man was badly beaten outside the Gurdhwara in Fresno, California. Americans often confuse Sikhs with Muslims because of the turban and the long beards worn by Sikh men.
Mohammed is his own best advocate. He plans on becoming an advocate against anti-Muslim bigotry. “I love America, I am going to fight for my rights and the rights of 7-10 million American Muslims; I will be a Muslim activist against Islamohate,” said Salim.