Muslim Girls Defend Themselves From Man Reportedly Berating Them At A Restaurant

"Just because we have the headscarf on doesn’t mean we’re not from here."

A group of teenage girls wearing hijabs reported being harassed Monday night in suburban Chicago as they exited a Pepe's restaurant after breaking their Ramadan fast.

According to CBS Chicago, as the girls — Zena Ahmad, Sawim Osman, Mai Ahmad, Tessneem Shahbandar,and Nour Jaghama, all between the ages of 16 and 17 — were leaving the restaurant, they passed an older man's table. The man, who hasn't been identified but can be heard slurring in the video below, reportedly made a crack about one of the girls being "so big she'd break a camel's back."

That's when the teens decided to stand up for themselves while Mai began filming the tense interaction. The disturbing video (which contains derogatory language) was shared on Facebook by Sawim Osman's stepfather, Sean Anthony, a professor of Islamic Studies at Ohio State University.

"Immediately I took out my phone," Mai tells BuzzFeed News. "That's the first thing I do in any situation in case anything bad happened."

As you can see, the man was unprovoked, but that hardly stopped him from berating a group of teenagers. "We didn't say anything to him. We were completely calm, just walking past him. He's the one who instigated the whole incident," Osman tells CBS Chicago.



The man can be heard saying, "If you don't like it in this country, leave."

Osman tells the Chicago Tribune she replied, "This is our home, too. What do you mean, leave?" Another one of the girls can be heard saying, "We were born here."

"We actually just wanted to confront him and point out that kind of behavior is not OK," Shahbandar explains to BuzzFeed.

When one of the girls called the man "disgusting" he got up from his seat and unleashed a myriad of racist, profanity-laced insults. That's when the teens decided to leave, fearing the situation might turn violent.

"I was really scared what it might escalate to," Osman explains to the Chicago Tribune. "I said this wasn't fair. He shouldn't be discriminating against us. We belong here just as much as he does."

Jaghama, who says she was the one who confronted the man, tells CBS Chicago, "When he stood up, I was like, 'No, he might actually get physical. I might get hurt.'"

CBS Chicago

Pepe's has released a statement about the altercation via their website, which says, in part, "Pepe's Incorporated and our entire Franchise family offer our sincere apologies to the women who were harassed and insulted by another customer at one of our restaurants on June 5, 2017. Pepe's condemns and rejects all discriminatory comments and actions directed to any of our customers and employees.

Pepe's has always worked hard to create a safe and welcoming atmosphere at our restaurants for all of our customers and will continue to do so in the future. The customer who made the inflammatory comments to the women will not be allowed in our restaurants."

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin requested a meeting with the girls on June 9, and let them know they had his support.

Facebook

The girls have reported the incident to police, and are understandably still very upset about what happened. As Mai points out to the Chicago Tribune, the trauma of the interaction was compounded by the fact that no one (including the man's silent dining companion) came to the girl's defense. "It was really saddening to see all the bystanders just watch. There were two teenage girls and a couple right next to us. They said nothing. There were like two employees working at the time, but, still, no one said anything."

It's unclear why no bystanders chose to intervene on the teen's behalf, but it's possible fear may have played a role in onlookers' decision to stay silent. This incident is reminiscent of what occurred on a Portland commuter train last month, when a man allegedly began spewing hate-speech at two Muslim girls. Two men were then reportedly stabbed to death as they defended the girls. Another man was injured, but survived.

Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Chicago's Council on American Islamic Relations, refers to the Pepe's altercation as another example of, what he calls, "hate lashes."

Facebook

"This is not divorced from hate crimes, which are already on the rise," he tells the Tribune. "We can no longer look at this as a force of nature. At what point do we make the connection? We need to move fast to do so."

The Pew Research Center reports hate incidents against Muslims in 2015 rose a shocking 67 percent over the previous year — the highest they've been in more than a decade.

Catherine Bronson, Osman's mother and a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame, has felt the shift. "We live in a very charged climate. I think the furor at the presidential level has sort of exacerbated this feeling and given a platform for those who might not have spoken out so aggressively," she explains to Yahoo!

Concludes Osman, "Just because we have the headscarf on doesn't mean we're not from here."



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