t took less than 24 hours for the comments to start.
After a story ran in the Hamden-North Haven Times this summer about the Republican Town Committee’s endorsement of Salman Hamid as its candidate for mayor, almost immediately comments popped up on Facebook about the “terrorist” candidate.
It’s not the first time he has experience prejudice, said Hamid, a Muslim and member of the Islamic Center of Hamden.
“It has come up before,” he said, especially after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, when he was an eighth-grader at Hamden Middle School.
That day, after the attacks occurred, the students were sent home, he said. And after it was learned that it was Muslims who had carried it out, he began to feel the backlash.
“The hate came out afterward, people said, ‘go home,’ and kids wanted to fight me,” he said. “I came here when I was 3 and I have no idea what the old country is like.”
That prejudice continues today, he said, though not as blatant. “I still get comments about how I speak perfect English,” he said. “People will say, ‘you’re so normal.’”
And last summer, while attending a conference, one person referred to him as “Salman from ISIS,” he said. “People think I make this stuff up, but I don’t,” he said. The person later came up to him and apologized, he said.
“I try to deal with it with grace,” he said. “It’s all a learning process, and that’s what it takes to start a duologue.
“It is hurtful to see individuals say things like that,” he said. “I had hoped we had grown as a nation. I thought we would be beyond this point.”
But, he said, he’s grateful that the freedom exists that gives them the right to speak out, no matter how hurtful. “I’m thankful for the first amendment and freedom of speech,” he said, “whether that speech is right or wrong.”
Hamid and his family moved to the United States when he was 3, he said, and at 18, he became a citizen. “It was a very proud moment for myself,” he said, and prompted his parents to follow suit and become citizens.
At the time he was going through the process of becoming a citizen, he also was attending college studying to become a social studies teacher. When he took the citizenship test, those giving it to him were impressed with his knowledge of American history, saying he knew more than they did about it.
Hamid taught at Hamden High School for eight years before becoming the district’s K-12 District-wide Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. He still teaches at Wintergreen Magnet School.
He gets positive feedback from those who know him from his time at the high school – former students were among those posting on Facebook in support of his campaign. But he said he knows he’s going to have to deal with the prejudice too.
“It’s an uphill battle,” Hamid admits. But as he goes out into neighborhoods campaigning, he’s gotten a good reception, he said.
“Most people have been supportive,” he said, adding that many have told him that they will be voting for the first time this November.
“I feel like I have a voice to promote diversity,” he said. His campaign could break barriers such as President John F. Kennedy did for Catholicism in 1960, he said. “We are breaking ground for future generations,” he said.
Fahd Syed of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut said Muslim candidates always have to deal with more than the average candidate does, including the perception that because they’re Muslim, they are terrorists.
“That is probably the number one thing we are going to face. People consider us to be terrorists from nothing more than not knowing us or seeing what they see on TV,”Syed said. “That will probably be the biggest challenge and is what we face from racism, not because of our policy or procedures, it’s just because of our race and religion.”
Syed himself is a candidate for the Board of Aldermen to represent Waterbury’s fourth district. “You get some folks posting racial comments, just like Salman gets, either on Facebook or media outlets,” he said. “So far the people have been very good in person, but we will start campaigning soon.”
Things have gotten worse since the emergence of Donald Trump as a political figure, he said.
“Within the last couple of years since Trump was campaigning and took office, it was on the backs of Muslims and many other groups, so when you have a person who is empowered speaking to masses, everything trickles down,” he said. “And that is what is leading to hate. So we would either have a good day or a bad day based on what he says.”
Incidents like the protests in Charlottesville in August make it worse for everyone, he said.
“You have all these white supremacists puffing their chests and saying, ‘Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump,’” he said, “and then he condemns them, which causes it to calm down, but he has upset a whole community because they are so pumped.”
The chants heard at the protest are familiar to Muslims, he said.
“A lot of these folks will see us and they will start changing ‘Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump,’ or say ‘USA’ like we are not Americans,” he said. “The only way we can solve this is to speak truth to power and get in to these offices.”
Hamden is a community that is likelier to welcome a candidate like Hamid because of its diversity, said Hamid’s campaign manager Ron Gambardella.
“He’s doing it in a community that is generally open-minded,” Gambardella said. As a Republican candidate in a Democratically-dominated town, “it puts him in the position where he must work across the aisle,” he said.
“And I will,” Hamid vows. “We have to have a balance in government, and we haven’t had that for a long time.”