Here is How the Community Reacted to Attack on Pakistan-origin CT State Rep Maryam Khan

Few amongst the scores of Pakistani-American community organizations and their leaders have come forward to publicly condemn the despicable attack.

By Jay Rover
(Photo courtesy Maryam Khan’s Connecticut House Democrats page)
Condemnation of a violent attack on Connecticut State Representative Maryam Khan on Eid Day continues to pour in from major stakeholders in mainstream America, except for the community she so proudly associates herself with – the Pakistani-Americans. With a few exceptions, scores of community organizations at the national level and in the tristate area opted to stay muted or ignoring the incident altogether.

Khan, a Democrat from Windsor, who is a special education teacher by profession, became the first Muslim member of the Connecticut House when she won a special election in 2022. She was re-elected in last year’s elections.

Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, State Assembly Speaker Matthew Ritter, CT state legislators, and Democratic leaders across the trip-state area and beyond were among the many officials offering support to Khan. “It is disturbing to me that this happened on a holy day meant to be marked by peaceful prayer,” Governor Lamont said in statement.

Rep. Khan, who was born in Pakistan, was attacked after she performed Eid-ul-Adha prayers at the XL Center in Hartford on June 28. XL Center arena hosted one of the largest Eid congregations in Connecticut this year, where more than 4,000 worshippers offered prayers.

Police said a 30-year-old man is facing assault charges in connection with the incident. According to the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Representative Khan, her three children, her sister, and a friend were approached by the man who made “vulgar and obscene remarks” and then “grabbed and hit her and threw her to the ground”.

Police identified the suspect as Andrey Desmond, who after the attack tried to prevent Rep. Khan from leaving the area and assaulted her. Police said she suffered minor injuries. According to reports, the suspect fled after the assault and was chased by civilian bystanders who detained him until police arrived.

Desmond was arrested and is facing charges of third-degree assault, second-degree unlawful restraint, second-degree breach of peace and interfering with police, police said.

Khan broke down in tears as she made her first public comments about the incident. “I was diagnosed with a concussion; I have no feeling in my right shoulder and my right arm,” she said. She criticized the police report, claiming that it did not share the full story, and said that she felt unsafe because while she was being attacked there was no security. “[At] one of the largest Muslim events we screamed inside and outside and nobody came to our aid — no security, no police, nobody,” she said.

Pakistani Community’s Muted Reaction:

Few amongst the scores of Pakistani-American community organizations and their leaders have come forward to publicly condemn the despicable attack. The community reaction’s scorecard is available on social media – just search Rep. Khan’s name on Twitter and see how many community organizations or their leaders would show up, condemning the incident. Even Khan’s Pakistani-American colleague in the state legislature – State Senator Dr. Saud Anwer – apparently did not share his reaction publicly. Dr. Anwer is otherwise famous for his political activism.

The only notable reaction came from Pakistani American Political Action Committee (PakPAC), a community group known for its solid on-the-ground work. PakPAC took to the social media to express deep concern over the attack. “PakPAC stands in solidarity with Representative Khan, offering our heartfelt support to her and her family as they recover from traumatic ordeal,” the organization said in a statement released on Twitter.

Muslim community organizations were in fact more active in condemning the attack than the Pakistani-Americans at large. These included CAIR, the Islamic Circle of North America Dallas, US Council of Muslim Organizations, Shafiq Abussabur, the Muslim Democratic candidate running for the Mayorship of New Haven, cT, and scores of others.

The attack on Maryam Khan stands as a stark reminder of the prejudice and discrimination that persist in American society. In the incident, Khan was subjected to verbal and physical assault, targeted solely based on her ethnic and religious background. This attack not only violated her personal safety but also undermined the principles of democracy and equality that form the foundation of the United States.

“Many Pakistani Americans acknowledge these facts but few opt to speak up,” says Shamim Syed, who works at a store in Queens. “These community leaders largely represent the rich class within the community who like to be photographed with the bigwigs to build their personal image and not that of the community,” he adds.

“I think we as community have failed to live up to our collective responsibility of raising our voice against racism and bigotry,” Munawar Hussain, who is a student in Brooklyn. “We scream hoarse on issues that may not directly impact us as a community and stay silent when one of our own is subjected to discrimination which is a shame,” he adds. Both Syed and Hussain agree that the Pakistani community organizations can do much better if they change their priority of self-projection to community service. “I think many of the community leaders themselves are good candidates for training in community organizations and leadership,” added Syed.

Despite the trauma and distress caused by the attack, Maryam Khan’s response has been inspiring. She has shown resilience, speaking out against hate and reaffirming her commitment to public service. In recent years, incidents of violence and discrimination targeting individuals based on their race, religion, or ethnicity have increased.

According to Southern Poverty Law Center, there are currently 1,225 hate and antigovernment groups operating in the United States. In its most recent count of far-right extremist groups operating in the U.S., the SPLC documented 50 anti-Muslim hate groups.

According to a 2022 report from Fernand de Varennes, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on minority issues, Islamophobia is among other forms of bigotry “surging” in the U.S. and is “creating real societal harm and cleavages in the country with xenophobia, scapegoating and scaremongering mainly aimed at minorities.”

The report, which stemmed from a visit Varennes made to the U.S., where he met with the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights groups in 2021, concluded Islamophobia “can be added to the pandemic of intolerance and growing extreme right-wing nationalism, violence and attacks, usually against minorities.”

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