Bodega owners across the city have dropped the NY Post from newsstands over an inflammatory cover it ran last week, one that the Yemeni American Merchants Association fears could incite actual violence against Muslims.
On Thursday, the tabloid targeted Congresswoman Ilhan Omar—a Somali-American Muslim woman—quoting a few words taken out of context from Omar's March speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. On the subject of Islamophobia and "the discomfort of being a second-class citizen," Omar explained that "CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties." Which is to say, Muslim Americans en masse shouldered the blame—and, according to the FBI, the escalating incidence of violent bigotry—for actions perpetrated by a fringe terrorist group, simply by virtue of their faith.
This is ugly pic.twitter.com/R2XVyS4dq8
— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) April 11, 2019
The Post, however, took a small snippet of that quote and ran with it, splashing "Rep. Ilhan Omar: 9/11 was 'some people did something'" across a photo of the planes hitting the twin towers, along with a boldface a rejoinder from the paper: "Here's Your Something." Then, on Friday, an apparently inspired President Donald Trump decided to pile on, tweeting a video of news footage from the 9/11 attacks spliced together with Omar's truncated quote.
Trump's critics were quick to resurface his previous statement on (literally) 9/11:
Since the president is tweeting out 9/11 footage, here’s a clip of him *ON* 9/11 talking about how now he owned the tallest building in the area since the towers fell. pic.twitter.com/BM403PspDi
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) April 12, 2019
After the President regurgitated the Post's message, Omar said she saw a marked uptick in death threats, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to heighten security for the freshman Congresswoman.
"The President's words weigh a ton, and his hateful and inflammatory rhetoric creates real danger," Pelosi pointed out, and YAMA agrees. YAMA formed in early 2017, when many of New York's Yemeni bodega owners shuttered their shops in protest of Trump's travel ban, and since then, have coordinated similar closures in response to the president's immigration policies.
At a press conference convened outside News Corp's Avenue of the America headquarters on Sunday, YAMA outlined its demands: That the Post make a public apology to Omar, Muslim-Americans, and minorities whose culture the Post has similarly sensationalized; that the publication abandon its overblown tabloid tactics in its effort to sell papers; that the Post fire its Editor-in-Chief, Stephen Lynch; and that elected officials "stop giving the New York Post any platforms to spread hate and racism," as YAMA Board Secretary Dr. Debbie Almontaser put it.
— RABYAAH ALTHAIBANI (@rabyaahahmed) April 15, 2019
As of Saturday, a "few hundred" of NYC's 4,000 to 5,000 Yemeni-American-owned bodegas and delis had dropped the Post from their newsstands, Almontaser told WNYC. The boycott is currently scheduled to last until May 13th, although it could continue for as long as it takes for the Post to meet the group's demands, if in fact it ever does.
Mohammed Alsabri has been shuttling between Yemeni-owned bodegas and delis, distributing flyers and explaining the boycott's aims to owners who haven't heard about it yet. Alsabri doesn't own a bodega—he drives an Uber, and is the president of a local group for Yemeni-American ride share drivers—but he is a co-organizer of the boycott nonetheless. When he saw the Post's cover, he told Gothamist, "I was shocked." Not by the idea that the tabloid would peddle a panicky, biased narrative (Alsabri is familiar with their editorial perspective), but by their apparent attempt to incite "bigotry and racism among New Yorkers."
Muslims, Alsabri said, "struggled not for a couple of months, but a couple of years after 9/11. They were treated like ... others: Like they're not American, or they're not American enough."
"Me personally, and I think a lot of Yemeni people, we support the first amendment and we support a free press, even if your opinion is different than the facts or what the reality is," Alsabri said. But the Omar cover was a bridge too far, he explained, because "a lot of people, they have this ignorance and they just believe what they read on Twitter from this crazy president, or in this paper... . And they can act on it." They can harass, discriminate against, and violently attack Muslims on the basis of what they see at the newsstand, or on the president's newsfeed.
Those fears are not misplaced: A group of researchers, for example, aligned the FBI's data on hate crimes between 1990 and 2016 with Trump's anti-Islam tweets, and noticed an unsettling pattern. Trump's tweet disparaging Islam correlated with higher rates of crimes against Muslims, and while correlation does not equal causation, it also bears noting that Trump has presided over more Islamophobic hate crimes than any other president, even George W. Bush during 9/11's immediate aftermath.
It's not unreasonable to worry that a fiery cover intended to spark anger against a specific person and her faith would create equally impassioned fallout. As civil rights activist Linda Sarsour put it to WNYC, it's "irresponsible, and it's negligent and it is what incites hate against our community."