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Muslim civil rights organization to open WV affiliate

The nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization plans to open a satellite office in West Virginia.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is seeking an executive director for a West Virginia office.

CAIR works to protect the civil rights of Muslim Americans through media relations, lobbying, legal assistance, advocacy, education and coalition building. It routinely condemns terrorism.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization has not announced a location, but Lori Saroya, national chapter director, said it hopes to open in the next few months. The office will be the fifth to open in 2017.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in people that are interested in getting involved with the organization and starting local chapters,” she said. “Our satellite office will be an extension of CAIR’s work.”

She said she anticipates the executive director will oversee a “few” staff members, although she noted the organization could grow based on the community’s response.

CAIR, which currently operates more than 30 offices, has been opening new locations in response to rising Islamophobic sentiment in recent years, and in particular since the 2016 election.

President Donald Trump, who promised a “Muslim ban” during his campaign, later attempted to prevent people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the United States through executive order. A federal appeals court decided Thursday the administration still may not enforce the order, and the travel ban “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

“We’ve seen an increase in targeting of not only American Muslims, but other minority communities since the November election,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. “This is an ongoing phenomenon and, along with that rise of anti-Muslim bigotry and the targeting of other minorities, we’ve seen an increase in support from the larger society.”

Hooper said previously the group largely drew support from the American Muslim community. The new office, he said, is “a reflection of the support we’ve received, not only from American Muslims, but also from the larger society.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which collected reports of hateful incidents and harassment of minority populations after the 2016 election, told the Gazette-Mail in late November it had tracked five instances in West Virginia, although it said one occurred in East Lansing, which is not in West Virginia. None were anti-Muslim.

CAIR also records anti-Muslim incidents based on self-reports from Muslim Americans and media monitoring.

In 2016, CAIR recorded a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents, according to a 2017 report. The organization recorded 1,409 in 2015 and 2,213 in 2016. It had no record of West Virginia-based incidents.

Corey Saylor, director of the CAIR department that monitors Islamophobic incidents, said CAIR has more accurate data on anti-Muslim incidents in areas with CAIR offices.

“Where CAIR is present, the local community is more likely to report cases to us,” he said.

Saroya said reporting increases because staff at local affiliates help Muslim community members learn their rights. They can also offer legal assistance and advocacy.

“I’ve seen across the organization, when a new chapter starts, people are more likely to report cases,” she said.

In the 2017 report, the organization noted it “contained a mere snapshot of the experiences of the American Muslim community.”

“From experience, CAIR knows that bias incidents targeting the community are vastly underreported to both law enforcement and community institutions,” the report states. “Community members will often not report incidents such as harassment and bullying since there is a certain level of desensitization. CAIR staff often hear of episodes in which someone was verbally harassed and did not report it since the victim feels nothing can be done, or that such things have become normal.”

Dr. Badshah Wazir, president of the Islamic Association of West Virginia, said he has not been informed of any anti-Muslim vandalism, hate crimes or similar incidents since the election, although he did mention an anti-Muslim book passed out at a school before parents made the principal aware of the situation.

“Nothing major — it is more the fear factor that something will go wrong,” he said.

He said he isn’t sure how much legal advocacy work there will be to do. But the Islamic Association encouraged CAIR to come to the state, Wazir said. He appreciates that there will be more people dedicated to “interfaith dialogue,” and that the resource will be available if any Muslim West Virginians do report instances of discrimination.

“It is good for us,” he said. “It is good for the local community.”

And while he hasn’t heard of any anti-Muslim incidents, he said he believes there is room for education. He mentioned the terrorist attack, in Manchester, that killed 22 people and injured 116 Monday evening.

“People associated Muslims with that incident,” he said. “They don’t have any idea that half of Southern West Virginia is treated by Muslim physicians.”

Wazir estimated the Islamic association has about 300 members in Charleston and surrounding areas.

More information about the state director position is available at www.cair.com. People who want to report bias incidents to CAIR can call its Civil Rights Department at 202-742-6420.

Reach Erin Beck at 304-348-5163,

erin.beck@wvgazettemail.com,

Facebook.com/erinbeckwv, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.

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