Mosque fire, synagogue vandalism unites locals in Portland

Mosque fire, synagogue vandalism unites locals in Portland
Recent attacks on two synagogues and a mosque in Oregon have left the local community more vigilant but determined to stand united against hatred.
2 min read
Washington, D.C.
11 May, 2022
Attacks at two synagogues and a mosque in Oregon have left the local community. [Getty]

Earlier this month, when a man attempted to start a fire outside a mosque in Portland, Oregon, the local community came together to support one another and also try to understand why this person – a former journalist who had previously reported on extremism – had committed such a crime.

"This is an interesting situation in that a lot of people knew him but didn’t know he’d go on to commit these crimes," Zakir Khan, board chair with the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oregon, told The New Arab.

"More than a year ago, he started being influenced by far-right propaganda. It's a tale of self-radicalisation," Khan said, which he believes culminated in the recent crimes.

On 3 May, Michael Bivins tried to set the fire to Portland's Muslim Community Center, which serves as a mosque and a community gathering space. Fortunately, for the congregants, some of whom were in the building at the time, the outside walls were painted with fire-resistant material.

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Prior to this incident, two synagogues in the same area were vandalised in late April and early May.

It was when Bivins arrived at a local Fox-affiliated TV station, where he asked to speak with a reporter and threatened to commit more similar acts that law enforcement made the connection between the recent acts of sabotage at the mosque and synagogues.

"This kind of incident is a constant reminder that we have to be ever vigilant in protecting our communities," Khan said, noting that following similar incidents in the past locals have guarded their neighbours while praying at the mosque.

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"During Ramadan, at night, community members were guarding the mosque when people were praying," he said. Such incidents, he added, "carry trauma and vicarious trauma." 

Though he is touched by his local community coming together, he had hoped such incidents had become a thing of the past.

"I think people thought when Trump lost the election these incidents would dissipate," he said. "It really shows we need to invest in diversity, equity and inclusion. Instead of learning how to hate, people can learn how to love."

The vandalism at the synagogues happened right after Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, and the mosque fire came just after Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.