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May 12, 2005

Report: Anti-Muslim Crimes on the Rise

by Jim Lobe

Reported incidents of anti-Muslim bias including hate crimes, discrimination, and harassment rose sharply in the United States last year, according to a new report by a major Islamic group.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), in a report released Wednesday, said it received 141 reports of actual or planned violence against Muslims or mosques nationwide, a 52 percent increase over the 93 reports the group received in 2003 and the 42 it received in 2002.

In addition, the number of incidents reportedly involving some form of police or law-enforcement abuse, such as unreasonable arrests, detentions, and searches, rose sharply in 2004, constituting more than one-fourth of all cases of abuse or discrimination, according to the report, "Unequal Protection: The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States 2005."

Such cases constituted only seven percent of reported incidents in 2003, according CAIR, which stressed that its report could not be considered scientific because it relied on voluntary reporting by alleged victims or witnesses.

Altogether, it said, more than 1,900 incidents of abuse and discrimination were reported to CAIR, of which 1,522 were deemed sufficiently credible to be included in the tally. That total was 49 percent greater than the 2003 totals.

"These disturbing figures come as no surprise given growing Islamophobic sentiments and a general misperception of Islam and Muslims," said CAIR Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar, who wrote the 62-page report.

According to the 2000 census, 1.2 million U.S. residents identified themselves as being of Arab origin. Figures on Muslims are controversial, with estimates ranging from three million to seven million.

Laila al-Qatani, communications director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which also tracks hate crimes and the violation of the civil rights of Arab Americans, told IPS her group also has seen a rise in abuses, particularly in employment discrimination.

"We're continuing to see a lot of discrimination cases, certainly more than in the past," she said. ADC is expected to release its own report on the situation of civil rights of Arab Americans at the end of this year, the first since 2002.

Both groups said the jump in the tallies was due at least in part to an increased willingness by victims and their families to report incidents compared to the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Then, attacks on suspected Muslims and Arabs reached an all-time high and the federal government rounded up hundreds of Muslim immigrants and held them virtually incommunicado.

The ongoing public controversy over the fate of civil liberties after the 2001 terrorist attacks has encouraged Muslim and Arab Americans to report incidents, according to Iftikhar and al-Qatani. In addition, CAIR and other groups have mounted aggressive campaigns in Muslim and Arab American communities to encourage people to come forward.

CAIR's communication director, Ibrahim Hooper, also suggested that the responsiveness of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to reports of hate crimes against Muslim Americans had encouraged more victims to come forward.

"Every time we referred a hate crime to the FBI, it's been investigated thoroughly and professionally," he said. The report, however, called on the FBI to act more proactively rather than relying so much on groups like CAIR to report incidents.

But aside from increased reporting, the CAIR report stressed that the actual number of Islamophobic incidents has almost certainly increased. It blamed the rise on the lingering atmosphere of fear directed at Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians that followed the 9/11 attacks and what it called the "growing use of anti-Muslim rhetoric by some local and national opinion leaders."

"Ninety-nine percent of media professionals are doing the best job then can given the resources available to them," said Hooper. "But there's a tiny number of columnists and journalists who make it their life's work to try to marginalize the Muslim community."

Still, CAIR's executive director, Nihad Awad, stressed that Islamophobia remained a critical problem and called on President George W. Bush, whose public statements against Islamophobia have been widely praised by civil-liberties and Muslim activists, "to once again speak up on behalf of the rights of Muslims," if for no other reason than to make U.S. public diplomacy toward the Muslim world more credible.

"American Muslims are a crucial resource in bridging the gap between Americans and Muslims worldwide," said Awad. "We can't promote democracy abroad if we have such problems at home. Our community is fearful."

While reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes and police abuses were up in 2004, according to the report, CAIR received fewer reports of workplace discrimination and discrimination by government offices compared to the previous year. Fewer incidents of Internet harassment of U.S. Muslims also were reported.

Among the most egregious examples of Islamophobia – and the government's own fueling of anti-Muslim sentiment – since the post-9/11 roundups, according to the report, was the case of James Yee, an Army captain who converted to Islam in 1990.

Yee was arrested in 2003 and held in solitary confinement for nearly three months on suspicion that he had spied for al-Qaeda or some other group while serving as a chaplain for prisoners held by the U.S. at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Despite pretrial hype, Yee was initially charged only with wrongfully transporting classified material, charges that were subsequently changed to adultery and storing pornography on a government-issued computer. In April, 2004, all charges and reprimands issued in the case were dropped, and Yee finally returned as an Army chaplain to his home base at Fort Lewis, Washington. There, in the absence of a government apology for his treatment, he tendered his resignation from the Army.

A second notorious case cited by CAIR involved another Muslim convert, Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield, who was arrested by the FBI as a "material witness" in the case of the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid, Spain, based on the Bureau's apparent misidentification of a fingerprint.

Mayfield, who had never even traveled to Spain, was detained for two weeks while newspapers and electronic media ran hundreds of stories labeling him a "terrorist." He was finally released at the end of March with an FBI apology.

(Inter Press Service)


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    Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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