A Culver City woman said Wednesday that a secondhand Koran she ordered through a book dealer working with Amazon.com contained anti-Islamic hate messages, including profanity and “Death to all Muslims!”
Azza Basarudin, a 30-year-old UCLA graduate student, said Amazon apologized, sent a new book and offered her a refund and gift certificate. But she and the Muslim Public Affairs Council called on the online bookseller to do more, including issuing a public condemnation of anti-Muslim hate speech and cutting commercial ties with the Pennsylvania-based book dealer that sent the Koran.
Holding up the book to display the messages at a news conference Wednesday, Basarudin said the incident resurrected the fear she felt after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when anxiety about anti-Muslim sentiment made her reluctant to leave her apartment for two weeks.
“I was taken back to 9/11, my fear that somebody is going to hurt me,” Basarudin said at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles. “I felt that fear coming back. It really hurt me.”
Amazon spokeswoman Patty Smith called the incident “appalling.” She said the Seattle-based firm had worked with the book dealer, Bellwether Books, to strengthen quality-control checks and suspended it from selling Korans on Amazon’s website.
“We’re deeply sorry and we think we’ve taken all appropriate steps to make sure this is not done again,” Smith said.
The Los Angeles-based Muslim council also released a hate message left on the voicemail of the Islamic Center on Saturday. In a taunting tone, the caller said he had just used the Koran in the bathroom and flushed it down the toilet.
The Southern California incidents followed an international furor over reports that U.S. military interrogators had flushed a Koran down the toilet to unnerve prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. The reports, which Newsweek magazine first reported then retracted this week, helped spark anti-American violence that led to deaths in Afghanistan.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a study last week that showed reported hate crimes against Muslims nationwide in 2004 increased 52% over the previous year, to 141 incidents. There was also a 49% increase in alleged civil rights violations, to 1,522.
“This is not an isolated incident,” said Salam Al Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, of Basarudin’s experience. “This is a culture of hatred [spread] through ... schools, government and here through a bookseller.”
Bellwether President Richard Roberts said an internal investigation did not determine how the Koran came to be defaced. He said his firm’s nine employees denied writing the messages and said they did not notice them when they shipped the book.
Roberts said the firm ships about 400 books a day and that packing orders are typically slipped into books without closely checking their content. In the wake of the incident, the firm assigned a quality control officer to rigorously check incoming and outgoing books, he said.
Both Roberts and Smith said if any employees were discovered to be involved, they would be fired. Smith also said that Amazon would banish Bellwether from its website if a similar problem occurred again. But she said the retailer had a “spotless” record and was highly rated by more than 11,000 customers.