The family of a man suspected of vandalizing an Islamic cultural center are claiming that the alleged actions were taken as a result of a medical condition, and was not an actual hate crime.
Asif Mohammad Khan, a 28-year-old California man, has been accused of committing vandalism on the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno. The crime occurred on Christmas day, according to the Associated Press.
“It is a case of mental illness,” said Samia Khan, the man’s sister. “There’s no question about that.”
Khan was booked on charges of felony vandalism for more than $10,000 in damage done to both the cultural center and a nearby medical facility. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer believed that “the broken windows and bleach poured on an American flag inside the Islamic center appeared to be a hate crime.” By the weekend, however, he had changed his mind.
“It was obviously not as we thought,” said Dyer.
Khan claimed that he had committed the vandalism on the Islamic center because the individuals there had “bullied” him. Samia said that doctors had diagnosed her brother with schizophrenia, and that in the days leading up to the incident, he had quit taking his medication.
She wrote a formal letter of apology for the alleged hate crime asking the Muslim community to “find it in your hearts to forgive his mistake,” imploring individuals offended by the act to “understand the health issue has brought us here today.”
In a recent report — hat tip to the Huffington Post — it was found that internet hate speech “can motivate some people to commit acts of violence against Muslims.”
“When you have threatening comments online and they go unchecked, people start thinking it’s acceptable,” said Madihha Ahussain, an attorney and the report’s lead author. “And it doesn’t take long to figure out that what becomes acceptable online becomes acceptable in the real world.”
Some believe there should be special consideration for Islam hate speech over that directed at other religions, since it is not the dominant U.S. religion and so much is misunderstood culturally with regard to Muslim practices and beliefs.
Individuals like Bill Maher have been criticized for perpetuating “Islamophobia” for pointing out human rights abuses in some predominantly Muslim countries.
It doesn’t appear to be what was going on with Khan, but many are concerned that individuals with mental afflictions such as Khan’s can be motivated to act in ways they would not normally as a result of seeing anti-Muslim sentiments online.
Do you think individuals who commit acts such as what happened to the Islamic Cultural Center should be charged with a hate crime, and should anti-Muslim speech be policed more closely than that of other religions? Share your thoughts in our comments section.
[Image via Panoramio]