While John F. Kennedy International Airport has been making headlines over the past few days regarding peaceful protests over the new immigration ban, last week the airport made news for an event that was less than peaceful. On Jan. 26, Robin Rhodes was arrested for committing a hate crime against a Muslim airline worker at JFK. Rhodes, a resident of Worcester, Massachusetts, was returning home from a trip to Aruba and had a layover in New York when he spotted the victim, Rabeeya Kahn, in her office. According to reports given by the Queens district attorney, Ms. Kahn was working as usual in the Delta Air Lines Sky Club lounge when Rhodes entered and started verbally and physically abusing her.
The reason? She was wearing a hijab—a traditional Muslim headscarf.
Rhodes’ assault on Ms. Kahn came completely out of the blue. He simply entered her office, began yelling expletives at her and kicked her in the leg, all while repeatedly cursing her religion. Eventually an onlooker stepped in and helped Ms. Kahn flee her office, and Rhodes began chasing her through the terminal and got down on his knees in an imitation of a Muslim prayer. He then continued to curse at her. When Ms. Kahn was able to ask Rhodes what she did wrong, he could not come up with a reason, responding, “You did nothing, but I am going to kick your (expletive) ass”.
Unfortunately, this incident is common. In 2015, the F.B.I. reported an overall six percent increase in the number of hate crime cases, an unprecedented spike for the year. However, when the causal breakdown was released, it was discovered that 257 of those cases were attacks against mosques or had other Islamic ties. Not only was this a 67 percent increase from the proportion of cases regarding Muslims from the previous year, but it was also the highest number of reports that the F.B.I. had seen since the 9/11 attacks over 15 years ago.
Over the past year it does not seem like the situation has gotten any better. Since the presidential election, it seems that many areas are actually experiencing more cases of crimes similar to what Ms. Kahn experienced compared to last year. According to the New York Times, “hate crime monitors like the Southern Poverty Law Center have reported a rash of verbal or physical abuse targeting minorities and others at schools, mosques and elsewhere”. Unlike 9/11 where a specific event seemed to spur the onset of hate crimes against Muslims, the only thing that has occurred since November is a peaceful transition of power between presidents.
However, it seems that this has been enough. By electing President Trump, people have seen their intolerant opinions validated by America. Although Trump has not actively told people to go out and commit these crimes, he has not attempted to prevent or halt the trend and could even be accused of fueling the fire. He has yet to comment regarding last Thursday’s event.
If our president, the leader of the free world, does not seem to be willing to help these people, then what do we do now? Do we tell our Muslim friends and family not to go to airports? Not to go to the grocery store? Do we prevent them from sending their children to school because we cannot ensure their safety from our own people? The foundation that this country is built on claims there is freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and by doing these things, or not being able to deny them, we are destroying this country almost as much as people like Robin Rhodes.
While Rabeeya Kahn may not be suffering physically from the assault she experienced last week, she is not free of the effects. We cannot stand by and allow a large portion of Americans to feel as though they are unwanted, and even more so targeted, by the entire country. If our president is not going to look out for the well-being of all of our citizens, then we must do so ourselves. We may have a narrow-minded president, but that does not mean we have to be a narrow-minded country.
Emma Hungaski is an opinion contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.