Randy Felder is a 26 year old Veteran, Muslim, and native of California, who has a large fine to pay to the city of Anaheim for two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery against members of the KKK. On February 27th, 2016, the KKK gathered in Pearson Park in Anaheim, California. A group of counter-protestors came to the rally, which broke out in violence. While counter-protestors and Klansmen were both arrested the day of the incident, a few days later, all of the charges against seven members of the KKK were dropped, while Randy and others are still facing time. The funniest part? The KKK stabbed three counter protestors, two with knives and one with a flagpole.
If you’re like me, you don’t find this joke very funny. As Randy notes in our interview at The Gypsy Den in Downtown Anaheim, the police were nowhere to be found during the Klan’s demonstration. The city knew of their plans and their presence, yet no police were in attendance until after violence broke out. “If there had been a police presence,” Randy said, “none of this would have happened.” The L.A. Times has reported that the city of Anaheim has roots in the Klan, stating that, ”Klansmen were once the dominant political force in Anaheim, holding four of five City Council seats before a recall effort led to their ouster in 1924.” While at first the city faced harsh criticism in the press, once the media’s eye moved on, the city continued its unbalanced legal pursuit.
The ideological, political, and historical context of our talk is complex and troubling. The KKK spews a message of hate, despite their latest efforts to appear to be advocates for “white rights.” Donald Trump claims “Islam hates us.” A general popular misunderstanding of Islam and of the faith Muslims practice continues. Hillary Clinton’s actions towards Syria during her stint as Secretary of State loom large with respect to the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS). Nevertheless, with a hefty fine hanging over his head, Randy was kind and courageous enough to sit down with me and reflect upon his life experiences, Islamophobia, and of what went down at the KKK rally that infamous day.
Amanda: You were in the military, correct? What branch of the military did you serve under and what year did you enlist in the military? How long was your service?
Randy: I was in the Army from July 1st, 2008 until November 11th, 2011.
Amanda: What motivated you to join the armed forces?
Randy: I didn’t want to go to college; I was like, “I’m not going to do well in college,” which is funny because when I got out, I took a year off and then I went to school and I’m actually doing a lot better than I’d expected. At the time there’s no way I would have been – I had no kind of discipline. I gained a lot of discipline and life experience as well. Right now, I go to Cypress College and I plan to transfer to a Cal State in the spring.
Amanda: Are there any stories related to your service, that you would be willing to share, that help shaped you as the person you are today?
Randy: It’s funny, because Afghanistan is where I discovered Islam. I used to be Christian. It’s funny that I had to end up in a war zone to find a religion that makes me comfortable. Islam gets a bad “rep” from so many people here, and then you get over there and I saw it firsthand. I saw what it really was.
Amanda: What mosque do you attend?
Randy: Masjid Omar Farouk, also known as the Islamic Institute of Orange County.
Amanda: How involved are you with your religion?
Randy: Very involved. I think that, for any religion, there’s good people or bad people in any religion. With Islam I do my best. I’m not perfect – no one is. But I try to do what’s required of me by my religion to the best of my abilities. I’m active at the Mosque. I’m a youth mentor there. Don’t look at me as the poster boy for Islam, no. I don’t want people to look at me like that. I’m my own person.
Amanda: How does your religion shape your world views?
Randy: I think Islam has definitely shaped a lot of the things that I do and my world view. Not in a negative way. I was on one side of the coin and now I’m on the other side, so I can see both sides. I definitely think that Islam in itself is good. It just happens to be that Muslims that follow that prophecy make it bad. But that’s part of every religion. You have people that are part of a religion and then they go out and do bad acts in the name of these religions, like the Westboro Baptist Church or ISIS. You see that [it’s] these people, and it’s the same thing like the Jewish people in Israel. Not all Jews have the mentality that Palestinian people should die. The thing is that there’s always people that do things in the name of their religion because they think that it’s right, but that’s not true. In the end, it doesn’t matter what religion you follow. I think most people want peace.
Amanda: What’s one thing most non-Muslims don’t understand about your religion that you wish they did?
Randy: We aren’t terrorists, that’s for sure. You got to think about it like this: In the world today, there’s what, about six billion people? Maybe seven billion? I think maybe one million of those people are Muslims. And out of that million, it’s like .003 that are actually affiliated with terrorism. [Editor’s Note: According to the Population Reference Bureau, the world population in 2016 is approximately 7.4 billion. The Pew Research Center estimates that at the end of 2012, the world’s Muslim population was approximately 1.6 billion. The determination of what constitutes “terrorism” and which individuals should be identified as terrorists remains deeply informed by political orientation. Nevertheless, according to the Huffington Post, “There have been 140,000 terror attacks committed worldwide since 1970. Even if Muslims carried out all of these attacks…those terrorists would represent less than 0.00009 percent of all Muslims. To put things into perspective, this means that you are more likely to be struck by lightening in your lifetime than a Muslim is likely to commit a terrorist attack during that same timespan.”] The majority of us are very peaceful and loving people. We do worship the same God as everyone else. We just have a different prophet. We’re not weirdos. We don’t have sexual relations with goats. We’re good people. So, to the people out there that aren’t Muslim, I’d say, “Just pick up a book, a good book, and read it, or visit a Mosque and see for yourself.”
We believe in every prophet that the Jews and Christians believe in; we just have a prophet that comes after Jesus. The main difference between us and Christians is that some worship Jesus as a deity. Some do, some don’t, but we don’t worship any prophets. We don’t claim that they are saviors or anything like that. We recognize them as human beings and that God, or as we call him “Allah,” has no children. We still believe that Jesus was born of unique circumstances, but we only worship Allah at the end of the day. That’s one of the biggest differences, but a small, minute difference. Even in the Quran, the holy book, the prophet Jesus is mentioned twenty-six times and the prophet Mohammed is mentioned four times.
Amanda: How would you define Islamophobia?
Randy: Ignorance. Not being aware of what Islam is really about. Following Fox News, what these certain media outlets have to say about us. Just, not understanding.
Amanda: In your experience, is there a connection between racism and Islamophobia?
Randy: Every time there’s an Arab or someone that looks Arab, there’s always this fear that they’re going to blow themselves up. That’s crazy, and that’s not right. The thing is that, people have to realize that not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs. There’s many different shapes and sizes of Muslims. I mean Islam is one of the most diverse religions in the world, actually. The thing is with me too here in California, I’m recognized as being a black man and a Muslim. But when I travel to different states or, for example, back East; I’m identified as Puerto Rican, because I’m half Puerto Rican as well. Then it becomes a Puerto Rican Muslim and a Latino Muslim as well.
Amanda: How often do you encounter Islamophobia in your everyday life?
Randy: I’m not always experiencing direct Islamophobia versus people that look Muslim and have people walk up to them and say things. Sometimes when I’m praying out in public or things like that, people give you a strange look because they can’t figure out what’s going on with me. Well, I don’t look like this big bearded man that’s wearing a robe or anything. I’m this man with all these tattoos and they can’t figure out why. For me, I think Islamophobia is more encountered like when people talk bad about Muslims and they don’t know that one is around. You have to check people and school them, whether it be in a coffee shop or even sometimes in gun stores. Man, you’d be surprised by these Republicans and NRA supporters and things like this.
Amanda: Can you give our readers some examples of Islamophobia that you have personally faced?
Randy: When it happens to me it’s not always direct. I was in a gun store one day and there was a man in there discussing politics. One of them said they should, and these are his exact words, “they should just drop pamphlets over these areas where these Muslims are living and just give them three days to evacuate and just bomb everything.” I asked what was the problem, and he couldn’t even answer. He didn’t know what the problem is.
I think now Islamophobia…Well people are becoming more political in it and less indirect like walking up to Muslims and saying things. In person confrontations still exist. I think in Santa Ana, CA a Muslim was recently attacked. There was one in New York that was pulled by her hijab and she was beaten. And even the police in New York, they did this, they stripped a woman while she was wearing her hijab. It’s not understanding. Islamophobia is dangerous.
Amanda: Do you consider yourself a radical?
Randy: No. [Laughs] I consider myself a Muslim at the end of the day. I don’t consider myself a radical. I don’t consider myself an activist. I consider myself me. I think, as a human being, as most human beings would agree, they want to see good.