First Look

Philadelphia mayor-elect urges unity, compassion after desecration of mosque (+video)

A severed pig's head was thrown at a mosque in Philadelphia. The incident comes amid fresh concerns about anti-Muslim sentiment.

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    Julia Lundy, a math teacher from the East Village shows support for the proposed Muslim center near the Ground Zero site in New York City's financial district on Aug. 19, 2010.
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Authorities in Philadelphia launched investigations after a worker at a mosque found a severed pig's head on the sidewalk.

Pigs are considered insulting to Muslims, as the Quran, the holy book of Islam, prohibits Muslims from eating pork, and pigs have been used to taunt or offend Muslims.

In a statement, Philadelphia mayor-elect Jim Kenney expressed outrage at the incident and urged unity.

“The bigotry that desecrated Al-Aqsa mosque today has no place in Philadelphia.” Mr. Kenney said. “The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has a long history of coming together in the face of challenge. We cannot allow hate to divide us now, in the face of unprecedented difficulties. I ask all Philadelphians to join me in rejecting this despicable act and supporting our Muslim neighbors.”

A caretaker discovered the pig's head early Monday, according to police.

Surveillance video outside the Al Aqsa Islamic Society in North Philadelphia showed a red truck driving past the building and someone throwing an object out of the window on Sunday night, police said.

It’s been a little more than three weeks since the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, claimed by the Islamic State, and nearly a week since the California shooting rampage, in which investigators say, one of the perpetrators had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

After this kind of extreme violence, there are often concerns that it will lead to a backlash against Muslim Americans and influence public comments by politicians.

Indeed, many American Muslims have reported feeling or experiencing growing anti-Muslim sentiments in recent weeks.

On the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidates have added their own anti-Islam rhetoric to the public discourse. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came under fire for saying he didn't believe a Muslim would be fit to serve as President. Weeks before, front-runner Donald Trump was criticized for refusing to correct a questioner who said President Obama was Muslim and "not even an American." On Monday, Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, drawing fierce criticism from both the White House and rival candidates in his own party.

Republican candidates may see expressions of Islamophobia as a way to motivate their core voters. A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that 82 percent of Republicans said they were “very concerned” about the rise of Islamic extremism in the world, compared with 51 percent of Democrats.

“Muslim identity has been so politicized. That politicization has created this climate where people resist learning about Islam and Muslims,” Catherine Orsborn, campaign director for Shoulder to Shoulder, a national initiative that promotes interfaith dialogue to end anti-Muslim sentiment told told The Christian Science Monitor last month.

Amid the growing backlash, community and interfaith leaders are pushing a message of compassion and courage in an effort to curb Islamophobia.  

“Freedom and equality – those are shared values” among all Americans, regardless of religion or politics, Ms. Orsborn said. “If we react to fear instead of those values, we’re submitting to what those who perpetrate violence want.”

“If we don’t respond by upholding those values, we’re allowing them to win,” she added.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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