Kansas City-area Muslims say anxiety among the community is as high as it’s been since 9/11.
Terrorist attacks in Paris and around the world combined with increased anti-Muslim rhetoric has caused a spike in hate mail and venomous posts on social media.
There have been overt acts of aggression against Muslims in several cities in the United States in recent days. Local leaders say the issue of Syrian refugees has fueled Islamophobia, as well.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback joined more than half the nation's governors in efforts to prohibit Syrian refugees from entering the state.
Moussa Elbayoumy of the Kansas Council on American-Islamic Relations says he would like the opportunity to clarify some things for Brownback.
“No one has been able to prove that any of the Syrian refugees that came to Europe or anywhere else has come from ISIS,” he said in an interview. “These people are escaping from torture and murder that ISIS is committing.”
Elbayoumy says the organization is not aware of any major incidents of aggression or violence against Muslims in the area, but the community remains on high alert.
“Everyone is concerned,” he says. “When is this going to reach here and how will it affect my family?”
According to a number of metro leaders, there is a level of trust between law enforcement and the Islamic community that has been built up over the years.
But they're aware of dubious intelligence gathering allegedly in an effort to prevent terrorist activity in other parts of the country. Elbayoumy says the community is cautiously optimistic authorities will behave differently here.
“At this point," Elbayoumy says, “I hope they realize there is no need to infiltrate … that open, direct dialogue between law enforcement and community members is more beneficial to all sides.”
Eric Jackson is special agent in charge of the FBI in Kansas and most of Missouri. He says the FBI has been cooperating for years with local and state law enforcement to nurture relationships with the Islamic communities. He says this relationship has enabled authorities to protect the public while maintaining the rights of Muslims.
“This is a normal thing with all communities, not just because of the heightened concern,” Jackson says. “We’re constantly vigilant for any violence to happen, including anything terrorism related.”
John Douglass, long time chief of the Overland Park Police Department who now provides security for the Shawnee Mission School District, agrees.
He says after 9/11, authorities reached out to the Muslim Communities and now enjoy a trusting relationship. This is important in a school setting where bullying can be a serious problem.
In spite of the acute awareness, security specialists say local counter terrorism efforts remain “underdeveloped” and potentially ill-equipped to avert a terrorist attack.
Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @laurazig or at firstname.lastname@example.org