On the Fourth of July, we celebrated our nation’s independence, founded on the principle that all people are created equal and able to worship freely. For centuries, religious freedom has been a pillar of American society and a beacon for those persecuted for their faith. This year, July 5th marked the end of Ramadan, the month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts for millions of Muslims. The juxtaposition prompts reflection on anti-Muslim threats and violence we have witnessed in our country.
Connecticut has not been immune to such shameful acts. On a night in November 2015, just hours after the terrorist attacks in Paris, a man used a high-powered rifle to shoot into the Baitul Aman Mosque in Meriden. Four shots pierced the mosque, one passed directly through the prayer area before exiting the building. No one was injured as the attack occurred late at night when no worshippers were inside. Law enforcement responded quickly, determined to restore a sense of security and calm to the Muslim congregation. Prosecutors from our office worked with the FBI, ATF and Meriden Police Department and quickly identified the shooter: Ted Hakey, a former Marine whose property abutted that of the mosque. After executing search warrants of his house and Facebook account, which revealed evidence of hatred toward Islam and Muslims, he was charged with the federal hate crime of destruction of religious property. On June 17, Mr. Hakey was sentenced to six months in prison for assaulting the mosque’s congregants in the peaceful practice of their religion.
Mr. Hakey’s acts are not isolated. The Department of Justice has led more than 1,000 investigations and 45 prosecutions of anti-Muslim acts of hatred and bigotry. After the Paris attacks, an individual in Florida was arrested for threatening to firebomb two mosques in the St. Petersburg area, and sentenced to a year and a day in prison. In Utah, a man pleaded guilty to tearing a Muslim woman’s hijab off of her head on a plane. This intolerance is fueled by rhetoric that incorrectly seeks to paint all Muslims with a broad brush when, in fact, the overwhelming majority of Muslims, including prominent Muslim leaders in Connecticut, condemn and stand against acts of terrorism that harm innocent people.
A remarkable thing happened in the Hakey prosecution. Mr. Hakey sought and received forgiveness from the congregation at the Baitul Aman Mosque. We applaud the congregation for their extraordinary grace and generosity of spirit, a gesture reflective of true Islam as the promotion of peace and harmony in the world. Last month, we honored the mosque’s leader at our annual law enforcement awards ceremony. More broadly, we deeply appreciate the dedicated efforts of our Muslim partners throughout the state to keep our communities safe and secure.
As the federal prosecuting office in Connecticut, it is the job of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to secure and protect citizens of all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. Our federal prosecutors have forged partnerships with Muslim leaders throughout the state, as well as with Sikh leaders who are often perceived to be Muslim, to help ensure the safety of all our communities and create an environment of trust that recognizes the humanity and dignity of all. We have trained hundreds of police officers about Islam and Sikhism; held anti-bullying workshops at schools and mosques; and launched a Multi-Cultural Advisory Council to gain insight from community members about how best we can serve all communities that we protect.
In the end, anti-Muslim vitriol itself undermines our security. Hateful and vicious rhetoric only strengthens the evil of terrorists who rely heavily on the narrative that America and the West hate Islam. We must rise above our anger to defeat the terrorists’ message of violence, intolerance and hate.
To the vast majority of our Connecticut residents who recognize that our diversity as a nation makes us stronger, make your voices heard: let the Muslim members of our community know that they are a valued part of our whole. It is the responsibility of all of us to lift up the voices of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding. We all must pledge to remove hatred and intolerance from our midst, and to stay true to the principles of liberty, justice and equality that define America at its best. The light of our nation shines brightest when its people reflect the promise and values of America.
Deirdre Daly is the U.S. attorney for Connecticut.