A Wichita mosque that for months had been targeted with anti-Muslim letters sustained heavy fire damage on Monday night.
Abdelkarim Jibril, president of the Islamic Association of Mid Kansas, told reporters that the letters insulted Islam and described the prophet Muhammad as a pig. They also included drawings mocking Muhammad, possibly spurred by the widely known fact that Islam forbids images of its founder.
The letters stopped about a month ago. Since then, Jibril said, someone has been turning on the mosque’s outdoor water faucet at night in an apparent effort to run up the water bill. It is not yet known if the letters or the faucet sabotage are linked to the fire, whose cause has yet to be determined. Investigators will be reviewing the letters’ contents to see if a connection can be found.
In the meantime, officials say the structural damage to the mosque is so extensive that the building may have been “totaled.” Wichita fire Capt. Stuart Bevis told reporters that the severity of the destruction will make the task of determining the fire’s cause unusually difficult. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which joined the investigation along with the FBI, has used an accelerant-detecting canine to sift through the debris. Any evidence the dog finds will have to be confirmed in a lab.
“We’re not ruling anything out,” Bevis told the Kansas City Star. “What our job requires us to do … guarantees you slow down, look at everything, take everything into account. We’re not going to rush into anything.”
The rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the last year has been palpable. In the wake of controversy over an Islamic center in lower Manhattan near the site of the World Trade Center attacks, propaganda from activists and politicians has vilified Muslims and more than a dozen states have taken up proposals to pass laws against the imposition of Islamic Shariah law — laws that are completely unnecessary but that have the effect of ginning up anger against Muslims.
If the Wichita mosque burning is found to be arson, it will be most recent in a series of apparently unrelated anti-Muslim and anti-Arab torchings committed in recent months. On Sept. 7, someone set fire to a rural grocery store in Clay County, N.C., that reportedly was owned by a Sikh family. (Sikhs, who wear turbans, have repeatedly been mistaken for Muslims and attacked in sometimes deadly apparent hate crimes.) Left behind at the grocery store was spray-painted graffiti, “911 Go Home.” A week later, arsonists hit a dry cleaning business in Orangevale, Calif., leaving behind a scrawled swastika and the words “fuck Arab.” The owners were Arab Christians and suffered some $60,000 in damage to their business. The FBI was investigating the attack as a hate crime.
On Oct. 24, a federal judge sentenced Henry Clay Glaspell of Arlington, Texas, to 14 months in prison after pleading guilty to burning down the playground at a mosque near his home.