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Muslims seek dialogue in hate crime aftermath
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The designation of the vandalism against the Manteca Islamic Center as a “hate crime” can bring severe penalties for whoever is responsible. 

For one, it brings the FBI into the equation. And it interjects mandatory sentencing enhancements that serve as a multiplier to whatever punishment gets doled out by a judge. And in California, additional Penal Code statutes are on the books that make the matter a state issue as well. 

But Basim Elkarra and the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council for American Islamic Relations isn’t necessarily pushing for anybody to get locked up for a decade or more. 

For him, just a little bit of tolerance from those that believe that Muslims are all “terrorists” and “jihadists” can go a long, long way – maybe even far enough to wipe out the hate being perpetuated in the South County. 

“Unfortunately there is an uptick in Islamophobia and there are people out there that only want to perpetuate this hate,” Elkarra said. “We see it in a lot of places, but what happened last week in Manteca is the second time that it’s happened there in the last few months. 

“There might be some reason why people would want to do what they did – there was a speech given there a few days prior and somebody could have been in attendance that didn’t agree with the message. And I don’t want that person to spend the next 10 years in jail. I just want to offer education to those people – we’ve had people call us up cursing and screaming and by the time they hang up they have an understanding of Islam that they didn’t have before. That’s what we want.”

Last week local leaders of the Manteca Islamic Center arrived to find anti-Muslim graffiti scrawled on the sign out in front of the building – “f--- Islam” – and strips of raw bacon that were thrown into the parking lot where vehicles would typically pull in for prayers and services. Strict adherents to the Islamic faith refrain from eating pork products. 

The incident was reported to the Manteca Police Department much the same way a similar incident was reported back in November – where another religiously-rooted message was spray-painted on the same sign. It took investigators less than a week to determine that the matter was in fact a “hate crime.”

When the story about what transpired broke, it was picked up by the Associated Press and has run in newspapers up and down California – including in the Los Angeles Times – and throughout the country.

Federal resources have now been dedicated to the investigation. They will be available for local law enforcement personnel that are tasked with solving the crime. The vandalism itself was relatively light in terms of the cost of the damage, but the message sent was intended to make the Muslim population feel like they’re not welcome. 

The close proximity of the mosque, which opened last summer, to a Southern Baptist church raised few eyebrows when the project was announced.