NEW YORK (AP) – A 23-year-old man was arrested Friday on hate-crime charges after he threw a Quran in a toilet at Pace University on two separate occasions, police said.
Stanislav Shmulevich of Brooklyn was arrested on charges of criminal mischief and aggravated harassment, both hate crimes, police said. It was unclear if he was a student at the school. A message left at the Shmulevich home was not immediately returned.
The Islamic holy book was found in a toilet at Pace’s lower Manhattan campus by a teacher on Oct. 13. A student discovered another book in a toilet on Nov. 21, police said.
Muslim activists had called on Pace University to crack down on hate crimes after the incidents. As a result, the university said it would offer sensitivity training to its students.
The school was accused by Muslim students of not taking the incident seriously enough at first. Pace classified the first desecration of the holy book as an act of vandalism, but university officials later reversed themselves and referred the incident to the New York Police Department’s hate crimes unit.
The incidents came amid a spate of vandalism cases with religious or racial overtones at the school. In an earlier incident on Sept. 21, the school reported another copy of the Quran was found in a library toilet, and in October someone scrawled racial slurs on a student’s car at the Westchester County satellite campus and on a bathroom wall at the campus in lower Manhattan. Police did not connect Shmulevich to those incidents.
Treatment of the Quran is a sensitive issue for Muslims, who view the book as a sacred object and mistreating it as an offense against God. The religion teaches that the Quran is the direct word of God.
In 2005, Newsweek magazine published and later retracted a story claiming U.S. interrogators at a prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, flushed a copy of the holy book down a toilet. The report sparked deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan and protests throughout the Middle East.
Pace University has 14,000 students on its campuses in New York City and Westchester County.
Messages left for school administrators and for officials with the New York and national chapters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations were not immediately returned Friday evening.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the national CAIR office in Washington, D.C., has said the organization receives frequent reports of Quran desecrations in the United States, especially postings on Internet sites, but seldom makes them public.
He said CAIR decided to speak out about the Pace incidents because Muslim students are impacted by the creation of what could be viewed as a hostile campus environment.