Why President Obama must address anti-Muslim bigotry

FBI investigating if UNC killings were hate crimes
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Story highlights

  • Farhana Khera: Hate crimes and anti-Muslim bigotry have been escalating at alarming rate
  • Khera says 150 groups are urging investigation of Chapel Hill killings as hate crime

Farhana Khera is executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization. The views expressed in this column belong to Khera.

(CNN)Last week, I was among 14 American Muslims who met with President Barack Obama at the White House, where I delivered a handmade Valentine's Day card from two California sisters, Sabrina and Saniya.

Sabrina, who is 10, told the President that she likes how he's running the country, and that she plans to be an engineer or a basketball player when she grows up. She also wrote that she was worried about kids being mean to her because of her Muslim faith and asked for the President's help amid the growing crisis of anti-Muslim hate.
Farhana Khera
This week, my heart sank as I read every parent's worst nightmare in the news: Three bright-eyed young Americans had been brutally slain in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
    Deah Shaddy Barakat; his new wife, Yusor Abu-Salha; and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were charitable, optimistic and promising individuals who were determined to make the world a better place, but whose lives were viciously ripped away.
    As the facts unfold, many indications lead us to believe that this is likely a hate crime. Yusor Abu-Salha's father has repeatedly stated that his daughter told the family that the neighbor didn't like them because of the way they looked. The accused killer's social media posts frequently attacked religion. And the manner of death: bullets to the head.
    Sadly, this incident is not an isolated tragedy. Hate crimes and anti-Muslim bigotry have been escalating at an alarming rate, causing fear among families and communities of heinous attacks exactly like the one we witnessed in North Carolina.
    In the last few months, we have seen public figures engage in rhetoric that has only added fuel to the fire of anti-Muslim hate and bigotry.
    Just a few weeks ago, Texas state Rep. Molly White posted on her Facebook page about an upcoming Texas Muslim Capitol Day where students get to engage with elected leaders.
    In her post, White indicates that she left "instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America" when they visit her office. A few months before, White posted that "Muslims cannot be trusted no matter how peaceful they appear."
    Earlier, in January, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned Americans of fabricated "no-go zones" in the United States where non-Muslims are not allowed to go, and insisted that immigration by Muslims should be viewed as an "invasion," clearly not grasping the fact that Muslims have been a part of America since their forced migration on slave ships.
    And it gets worse.
    Since the release of the movie "American Sniper," we have seen ugly and threatening messages on social media. One Twitter user said the film "makes me wanna go shoot some (expletive) Arabs."
    Another Twitter user suggested that people look up the list of mosques and Islamic schools in the United States (he provided them a link to a community website that compiles the names and locations of these institutions) and then attack them with guns and other heavy ammunition pictured in his tweet.
    Hate-filled rhetoric and threats of violence have popped up in every facet of our society. As a Muslim, it is difficult to go about my life without my faith being attacked on social media, on mainstream cable news and in my community.
    At last week's meeting, I asked the President to host a summit to examine discrimination directed at people of faith in America. While Obama announced Friday that the FBI has begun an inquiry into Tuesday's horrific killings in North Carolina, now, more than ever, we need the President and Attorney General Holder to speak from the podium and personally address the larger issue of anti-Muslim bigotry.
    Furthermore, it is critical for Holder, our nation's chief law enforcement officer, to direct and complete a rigorous federal investigation on the attack and make it clear that violence against anyone based on how they look or how they pray will not be tolerated. In fact, 150 organizations have signed onto a letter asking Holder for such an investigation.
    As Americans, we want all our children to grow up with the same opportunities. We want all our families to be able to practice our faiths and be part of communities that celebrate and welcome diversity. We want to keep our communities safe from acts of violence.
    Today, Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian-American parents are hugging their children a little tighter, feeling helpless to protect them from others who hate them simply because of how they look or the way they pray.
    As we carry the torch for Deah, Yusor and Razan and remember the great things they accomplished in their beautiful lives, let us also honor their memory by ensuring that young children such as Sabrina and Saniya are not targets of future hate crimes.
    Let us assure tomorrow's rising stars that they can grow up in a world where they don't have to fear their fellow Americans.
    Let us create a nation where Sabrina doesn't feel the need to ask her President to protect her from hate.