A flyer declaring April 3 “Punish a Muslim Day,” originating in the United Kingdom and circulated through social media, put Portland Public Schools and local police on alert earlier this month, according to KGW News. No physical copies were found in any Portland public school, but PPS condemned the flyers in a statement, and the Portland Police Bureau have increased patrols near Islamic places of worship.
The flyers were “against our values as a district that has no place for discrimination or harassment against our students, families and employees,” the PPS statement read.
The flyer laid out a point system for abusing Muslims, ranging from verbally and physically assaulting individuals to burning or bombing mosques. According to Al Jazeera, counterterror police in the UK were investigating the flyers in March as a possible hate crime.
A Muslim family found out about the flyer through the Islamic Center of Portland and alerted Portland Public Schools. PPB is investigating the original source of the flyer, but it does not suspect a real threat toward the Muslim community in Portland.
A Portland State student who did not want their name published said in an email they feel safe and do not feel targeted based on their religion. However, they were recently targeted by strangers off campus. “One time, in downtown while I was walking to the bank,” the student wrote, “someone was running towards me, then he hit me really hard in my chest and started cursing Islam.”
Sanaa Saifan, a K-5 Arabic Defense Language Institute teacher at PPS who identifies as Muslim, said she has been living in Portland for 20 years and believes the community is very safe. However, she said she does feel unsafe when incidents that encourage hatred toward Muslims occur.
“The incident on the MAX last spring,” Saifan described, “this impacted every woman wearing hijab in Portland because it happened at home—too close to us.”
Saifan was referring to the May 2017 stabbing on a MAX light rail train in Portland, in which a white supremacist harassed two women of color—one wearing hijab—before stabbing three men who came to their defense, killing two.
“I really kept thinking [during] that time, ‘This could’ve been me,’” Saifan said. “My heart went to these two girls who were attacked and assaulted because of their faith, specifically the one wearing hijab.”
Saifan said the flyers did not disturb her, though she feels she will have to be extra cautious in public. Saifan’s main concern is her son.
“My son experienced a lot of negativity and racial discrimination in his school,” she said. “He has been called…a terrorist bomber [and people have asked him] ‘Are you going to be a pilot so you can bomb the White House?’”
Saifan has also been a target of discrimination herself. She said a woman once approached her in the mall and asked if she was raising her son to be a bomber.
“These things happen often,” she said, “but we have learned how to deal with them and respond positively by showing who we are and what [our beliefs are].”