WASHINGTON, Dec 21 (KUNA) -- Muslim-American leaders from across the country came together Monday as part of US Coalition of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) to announce a national campaign combating Islamophobia, and described current wave as being worse than climate after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
There was a "more coherent, more united front against violence" after 9/11, Nihad Awad from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told reporters.
President George W. Bush "stood firm ... (and) defended the American Muslim community," he added.
"Today unfortunately we feel there is a division in the nation ... we feel the heat ... in the unprecedented number of hate crimes against individual Muslims (and) mosques," Awad said, pointing the finger at "irresponsible political rhetoric" coming from presidential candidates and talking heads in the 24-hour news cycle.
In response, the USCMO is mounting a "massive grassroots effort" to get Muslim-Americans more engaged in the democratic process, USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jamal told reporters.
The group is embarking on a "major educational outreach and civic empowerment (project) to address the growing Islamophobia in America and to enhance national security through the promotion of freedom and justice," he affirmed.
That effort will consist of a drive to register one million Muslim voters ahead of the 2016 election, as well as "strengthened alliances" with other faith groups because "the Muslim community alone cannot (make) the difference in the election," Jammal said.
By most estimates, Muslims make up less than two percent of the US population.
The USCMO will also have "national open mosque" days, so Americans from all walks can interact with their Muslim neighbors, he added.
However an increase in "emergency preparedness" at these mosques is also needed, Jammal said, due to the rise in hate crimes across the nation.
These measures follow a summit on national security held Sunday in northern Virginia, where more than 100 Muslim-American leaders gathered to tackle the threat from violent extremism, both from terrorists abroad as well as from anti-Muslim groups in America.
"We will not allow either ISIS or Islamophobia to define who we are or to determine our destiny," Jammal emphasized.
"This is also not an abstract exercise for us as husbands and wives and parents of children that were born in Brooklyn, in Boise, in Syracuse, and in San Francisco," said Altaf Husain with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
"This is a real exercise for us, to make sure that our children know that they will make great contributions to the resolution of complex social problems addressing American society," he stressed.
"Anti-muslim bigotry, anti-Muslim hostility are un-American," he said.
Republican presidential candidate and frontrunner Donald Trump, who said he would like the borders closed to Muslims and even track the ones already inside the country in a database "is not fighting ISIS. He's helping ISIS," Nihad Awad said.
"ISIS could not get better help than elite political leaders who scare the public ... ISIS leaders know that they cannot destroy the United States. They cannot defeat the United States but what they hope to do is to divide Americans and to scare us. So my message to all candidates [is]: Stop being afraid. America is strong," he affirmed.
At this time, the USCMO is not endorsing any particular candidate for president. (end)