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Panel Discussion Focuses On Solutions To Islamophobia

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Islamophobia may not be a term you are familiar with, but it is something that experts tell us is happening more often in Minnesota and across the country.

It is a hatred or prejudice against someone who is Muslim or practices Islam.

Victims of Islamophobia shared their stories Wednesday with top federal officials in Minneapolis at a panel discussion moderated by WCCO's Esme Murphy.

Four victims who spoke Wednesday cited heated rhetoric in the presidential race, and publicity over terror attacks in Europe, as being partially to blame for the increase in Islamophobia.

Asma Jama
Asma Jama (credit: CBS)

Asma Jama was struck in the face with a beer mug at a Coon Rapids Applebee's last fall after speaking Swahili with her family.

"I live in fear every single day that somebody is going to retaliate, and this time it's not going to be a beer mug. It's actually going to end my life," Jama said.

Asma Jama - Victim Of Applebee's Attack
Asma Jama after attack (credit: CBS)

Her attacker was charged with third-degree felony assault.

"But I think that that is just a slap on the wrist for me because of the magnitude of what she did to me," Jama said.

Other panelists talked about incidents of verbal attacks that left them hurt and isolated. Lul Hersi of St. Cloud described the constant stream of insults she and her four children endure.

"My child has to be the victim of other students attacking them," Hersi said.

license plate
(credit: Minnesota Department of Public Safety)

Haji Yusuf founded an organization called "Unite Cloud" in February to combat the hate.

He posted a photo to Facebook of a Minnesota license plate that read, "FMUSLMS." The post went viral and led to a state review of all vanity plates.

Haji Yusuf Of Unite Cloud
Haji Yusuf (credit: CBS)

Yusuf called on all Minnesotans to fight Islamophobia.

"These are Minnesotans that you need to speak up and stand up for," Yusuf said.

There was also a call to action from United States Federal Court Judge John Tunheim and U.S. Attorney Andy Luger.

"Islamophobia is going to destroy the social fabric of this state if we don't turn it around," Luger said.

Walter Mondale At Islamophobia Summit
Walter Mondale (credit: CBS)

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who sponsored key civil rights bills in the 1960s, says Minnesota has no choice but to combat the epidemic.

"I think the road is right there for all of us to see," Mondale said. "The future depends on us solving this problem."

Luger announced he is forming a panel of top local attorneys to help combat Islamophobia. He says he wants the attorneys to provide legal services and advice for victims.

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