TWIN FALLS • A red poinsettia plant hung on a background of dark gray paint Monday afternoon on the front of the Islamic Center of Twin Falls.
The words “Hunt Camp?” were written in gray spray paint across plywood boards covering windows Saturday night. The poinsettia and the paint were left after members of the Islamic Center already painted over the words scrawled across the new Islamic Center that’s still being built.
Imad Eujayl, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Twin Falls, first noticed the vandalism when he arrived to do some work around the old Islamic Center next door. He called the Twin Falls Police Department to report the incident and learned that it had already been called in by another person. Eujayl said the center is short on funds, which is why the building’s windows are boarded up for the winter. Last year, a special-use permit was approved so members of Islamic Center of Twin Falls could expand and erect a new building on its site.
“We think it is from an ill-informed person,” Eujayl said. “Hunt Camp can be interpreted in many different ways. It could be referring to the camps that happened after WWII or whatever. I don’t have any specific interpretation, I don’t know what the person meant, but it is not good intentions.”
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government rounded up some 13,000 Americans of Japanese descent and moved them from their homes on the West Coast to an internment camp seven miles north of Eden known then as the Hunt Camp. More than 115,000 Americans of Japanese descent were sent to 10 camps in California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arkansas.
Lt. Terry Thueson of the Twin Falls Police Department said police are taking a “very aggressive approach” to this incident. A detective has been assigned the case. The crime is considered a felony with fines and up to five years in a state penitentiary, Thueson said.
“We take crimes of this nature very seriously,” Thueson said. “Our department will not tolerate malicious harassment and hate crimes.”
While the incident was disheartening to Eujayl, he said it also confirmed the support he feels from the community. Several people stopped by to offered help and support as they were painting over the words Sunday morning, he said. Someone left the red poinsettia plant on the building after the words were painted over.
“It made us feel very welcomed in the community,” Eujayl said. “We know this community is very supportive. We got subcontractors working for us. We do not have any problems. It really confirmed what we feel about the community.”
Catherine Talkington also felt compelled to show support. After hearing about it on Facebook, she drove over to the Islamic Center with cleaning supplies and paint. Talkington is an active member of the Idaho Democratic party and is married to Twin Falls City Councilman Chris Talkington.
“Our community is too good for this in light of everything else that is going on,” Talkington said. “And it takes each one of us. I think being good neighbors in our community is what is really important. It means we help each other. We are friendly toward each other and we reach out beyond our normal realm.”
This is the second time the Islamic Center of Twin Falls has been vandalized. In 2011, shortly before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, someone spray-painted a swastika on the building.
Following the deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., Muslims around the U.S. have faced backlash including vandalism to mosques and Islamic centers, hate-filled phone and online messages and threats of violence, the Associated Press reported. Last week in San Bernardino, a husband and wife, who supported the ideology of ISIS, killed 14 people at a holiday party. On Nov. 13, 129 people were killed and wounded more than 350 when gunmen and suicide bombers hit a concert hall, a stadium, restaurants and bars in Paris.
His a speech Sunday, President Barack Obama called on Americans to reject discrimination and called on Muslim leaders to confront extremist ideology “without excuse.”
In August, Eujayl and others in the Muslim community started receiving letters with passages from the Quran, and directly below them, passages from the Bible. The letters were also sent to people who were not Muslim, but had Muslim-sounding last names.
The letters have seemed to stop, but the other day Eujayl was sent another envelope containing a pamphlet on the freedom of speech. He hasn’t heard about others receiving a similar letter and believes it was directed to him because he spoke out in the Times-News. That letter also had no return address.
“We got great support from many, many people. This does not reflect the majority of the community,” Eujayl said. “We understand that a few people can do this or one ill-informed person. We think the incident in California triggered someone to paint all the Muslim community with the same brush.”