'That's Just Hate': Arizona Senate Candidate Fends Off Anti-Muslim Facebook Comments

Deedra Abboud.
The Deedra Abboud Campaign
Deedra Abboud.
In the face of hundreds of Islamophobic Facebook comments, U.S. Senate candidate Deedra Abboud is staying positive.

The 45-year-old Phoenix Democrat said she was surprised when a Facebook video posted back in June began blowing up with comments Monday night.

By Tuesday afternoon, the video post had more than 2,000 shares and almost 800 public comments. Many of the comments targeted her religion, telling Abboud to “Go back to the Middle East” and “Take that rag off [her] head.”

But Abboud, an attorney and community activist, says she’ll handle the cringe-worthy comments like she would any bully who confronted her on the political playground.

“We haven’t dealt with this really hateful rhetoric,” Abboud said. “We as a society never dealt with it, and we’ve been operating under a bogus bullying theory that if you ignore the bullies, they’ll go away.”

Abboud isn’t ignoring it, but she’s not letting it get to her either: “You’re going to win a match against a bully when you stay strong.”

Abboud says she and her team set some of the comments on the public post to "hidden" because of their vulgar nature.

An Abboud spokesperson said the post that was most targeted with hate speech was promoted as an advertisement only, so users can't see the post on the Deedra 2018 Facebook wall without the link, seeing an ad, or having a friend share the post. Other posts on Abboud's wall have also been tarnished with anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Imraan Siddiqi, the executive director of the Arizona Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the disparaging Facebook comments “a function of how organized hate works in the age of Islamophobia.”

Siddiqi, who’s been tracking Islamopohbia for 15 years, speculated that an organized hate group could have shared the post among Facebook private and public groups that would generate the kind of derogatory comments that plastered Abboud’s post in such a viral fashion.

Siddiqi noted that many Muslim public figures, such as Linda Sarsour, one of the lead organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, and Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, have been the targets of swirling derogatory internet hate speech.

“Any time a Muslim gets into a position of prominence, you see these organized attacks take place,” Siddiqi said.

This comes at a time when hate toward Muslims is on the rise in general. The FBI’s latest annual hate crime report showed anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 67 percent, from 154 incidents in 2014 to 257 in 2015.

Siddiqi thinks the rise in hate toward Muslims has to do with President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about Muslims. Early in his campaign, Trump said at a New Hampshire town hall, “We have a problem in this country; it's called Muslims. We know our current president is one.”

Siddiqi says this kind of language gave the kind of people who came after Abboud a platform to stand on.

“I think Trump gave an umbrella for these people to coalesce underneath,” Siddiqi said. “And I haven’t seen a huge amount of effort from people in the political space speaking about [Islamophobia] and denouncing it."

Abboud was the first Democrat announcing a 2018 challenge for Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake’s seat. She says she doesn’t believe the online rhetoric will affect her campaign.

“Rational people look at that and say, ‘Wow, that has absolutely nothing to do with this — that’s just hate,’” Abboud said.

She is taking a rational approach to the messages spitting out of the internet’s darkest corners at a rapid-fire pace.

“You absorb, you accept what you choose to absorb and accept,” Abboud said. “This is not how all people feel. It’s not a reflection of me. These people just hate Muslims — it’s not personal, so why take it so?”