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Bacon attack on an American mosque: prank or hate crime?

Strips of bacon spelling 'PIG' and 'CHUMP' were found in front of a South Carolina mosque Sunday. In post-9/11 America, pork – which is unclean in Islam – is a primary form of anti-Muslim protest.

By Staff writer / October 15, 2010


When he first spotted the strange graffiti, Mushtaq Hussain thought it was a juvenile prank: Somebody had used bacon strips on a sidewalk in front of a Florence, S.C., mosque to spell out the words "PIG" and "CHUMP."

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But as Mr. Hussain, a board member at the Islamic Center in Florence, gave it some thought, the incident last Sunday seemed less like an ill-advised gag and more like a cunning and cruel affront. "We thought seriously, and we thought, ‘You know, somebody doesn't like us,' " he told WMBF-TV news in Florence.

Nationwide, polls show a growing ambivalence – or even anger – toward Islam among Americans, which has in part explained the opposition to a mosque near ground zero and mosques elsewhere, as well as the aborted mass burning of Korans by a Florida preacher. But subtler, more psychological attacks against Muslims have also become prevalent, say Muslim groups.

WATCH VIDEO: Build a 'mosque' near ground zero?

In those attacks, pork – which Muslims are forbidden to eat because it is considered unclean – is being used as a primary weapon, sent in packages to mosques, invoked in sharply worded letters, or, as in Florence, used to spell out literal messages.

To many experts, pork-laden messages, such as the one delivered in the heart of the barbecue belt last weekend, mirror what appears to be an increasingly conflicted view in America about the impact of Muslim culture on US politics and society.

Like protests such as "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day," some Americans are needling what they perceive to be an over-sensitive Muslim population with acts that – to non-Muslims – seem relatively tame. In the process, they are exposing the vast difference between what is considered acceptable by the measures of American free speech and by the believers of Islam.

"These are not hate crimes, but they're expressions of intolerance, really," says David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "I think a lot of this is generated by a lack of understanding, anger about 9/11, and a great deal of misinformation about Muslims in America and Islam, all of which is in plentiful abundance on the Internet and on blogs."

Pork as a weapon