LEWISTON – No one in town disputes that rolling a pig’s head into a mosque as men bowed in prayer was a strike at Muslims. Or that the person who committed the offense should be held accountable. But that is where the agreement ends. City officials say Monday’s incident at the Lewiston-Auburn Islamic Center was isolated, the work of Brent Matthews, a former city employee with a criminal record.
“This is just an incident where one idiot did something stupid, in my opinion,” said City Administrator Jim Bennett.
But some Somali Muslims see the act as the latest in a string of more than a dozen incidents targeting them over the past several months.
Ahmed Abdi, who works as an interpreter for Somalis, said acid has been dripped onto several Somalis’ cars, and their tires have been slashed. Windows on Somali homes and businesses have been scratched or cracked.
Throughout, some Somalis say they have been the object of racial epithets and told to “go back home.”
Police say they have not received reports to back all these complaints, but some Somalis say they fear retribution and have avoided contacting authorities.
“Ninety-five percent of people are good, very friendly,” the 48-year-old Abdi said at he waited for his lunch at the Red Sea restaurant. “Just a few people are doing this. Why this is coming up now, I have no idea.”
Somalis said they thought they had put unrest in Lewiston behind them. Nearly four years ago, when the Somali population topped 1,000, then-mayor Larry Raymond asked new arrivals to discourage their relatives from settling here. The former mill city, he wrote in a letter, was “maxed-out financially, physically and emotionally.”
A white supremacist group, World Church of the Creator, latched onto the events in Lewiston and announced it would be coming to “save” the city in January 2003. That spurred the predominantly Muslim Somali community and its supporters to plan a counter-rally the same day, attracting more than 4,500 people. The white supremacist rally drew just 32 people.
In the time since, Raymond decided not to seek re-election, and Somalis have continued to move to this mostly French-Catholic city of 36,000 because of its safer streets and affordable housing. Coming mostly from other states, Somalis now number between 1,800 and 2,800, according to estimates. The latest arrivals have been several hundred Bantus, a minority group in Somalia.