American Muslims fear a new wave of Islamophobia

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA: Muslim Americans responded with a mix of frustration, exasperation and anger to what many see as a growing wave of Islamophobia fueled by two of the Republican Party’s most popular presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

At the Islamic Institute of Orange County, which houses a mosque and a school in Anaheim, in southern California, tensions were already mounting since a group of white men screamed at mothers and children arriving at the center on this year’s anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, calling them cowards who did not belong in America.

Many of the country’s 2.8 million Muslims say such tensions could become uglier during a presidential race that they fear is already tapping a vein of anger and bigotry.

“It’s pretty troubling that someone running for president would make those claims,” Zuhair Shaath, Palestinian-American, said of Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who on Sunday said Muslims were unfit for the presidency of the United States.

Carson’s campaign defended his comments on Monday, saying he was not suggesting a Muslim should be barred from running for president. But his campaign said he would not advocate for that person becoming a leader and would not support it.

Later on Monday, Carson said he “absolutely” stood by his comments but would be open to a moderate Muslim candidate who denounced radical Islamists.

The remarks by Carson, who is near the top of opinion polls for the crowded field of Republican candidates for the 2016 election, followed billionaire Trump’s failure to challenge comments made on Friday by a supporter who labeled US President Barack Obama a Muslim.

Some Muslims say they fear that the remarks could strengthen the appeal of Carson and Trump, who have cast themselves as non-politicians in a race in which blunt comments laced with misogyny and xenophobia have done little to derail the popularity of Trump, who is leading in opinion polls of likely Republican voters.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called on Carson to “withdraw from the presidential race because he is unfit to lead, because his views are inconsistent with the United States Constitution.”

In an Anaheim neighborhood known as “Little Arabia”, Abdallah Soueidan said the comments will inevitably cause trouble. “They are stirring things up,” said Soueidan, 57, who moved from Lebanon 37 years ago.

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