Surge in Hate Crimes Followed by Official U.S. Targeting of Muslim, Arab Men

Article excerpt

Islam in America

For Arabs and Muslims living, working, and going to school in the United States, the end of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 were marked by poignant reminders of the unease and apprehension that has permeated their communities in the ongoing aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. First, the FBI released its annual hate crimes report for 2001, which showed a marked increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims and people who are or appear to be of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. Then, the INS announced a controversial new "special registration" process for non-immigrant visa holders from predominantly Muslim and Arab countries. That move rekindled concerns among these communities of unfair ethnic and religious profiling.

The FBI report found that incidents targeting people, institutions and businesses identified with the Islamic faith increased from a mere 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001-a rise of 1,600 percent.

Although the statistics did not specify the dates on which the 481 incidents occurred, the FBI theorized in somewhat understated fashion that the increased attacks were "presumably... a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11." According to the report, most of the incidents against Muslims and people who are or were believed to be of Middle Eastern ethnicity involved assaults and intimidation. Three cases of murder or manslaughter and 35 cases of arson also were reported, however.

Unfortunately, as disturbing as these statistics are, the numbers of hate crimes reported by the FBI most likely vastly underestimate the true number of incidents that took place, as many Muslims are believed not to have reported such incidents to law enforcement authorities. According to statistics gathered by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, as of February 2002 the number of hate crimes and "anti-- Muslim" incidents reported by American Muslims exceeded 1,700. These ranged from public harassment and hate mail to bomb threats, death threats, physical assault, property damage, and murder.

One question that has arisen in the aftermath of this surge in hate crimes is whether the U.S. government responded appropriately to the post-911 environment of anti-Muslim hysteria. The answer is both yes and no, according to a recently released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), entitled We Are Not the Enemy: Hate Crimes Against Arabs, Muslims, and Those Perceived to be Arab or Muslim After September 11.

"Government officials didn't sit on their hands while Muslims and Arabs were attacked after Sept. 11," said Amardeep Singh, author of the report and U.S. Program researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But law enforcement and other government agencies should have been better prepared for this kind of onslaught."

The HRW report praises the official condemnation of hate crimes after Sept. 11 by public figures, including President George W Bush. It notes, however, that "the US. government contradicted its anti-prejudice message by directing its anti-terrorism efforts-including secret immigration detention and FBI interviews of thousands of non-citizens-at Arabs and Muslims."

Indeed, after the initial wave of hate crimes against American Muslims and Arab-Americans, a second manifestation of the post-9/11 backlash ensued. Sadly, this backlash was in large part sanctioned by and carried out by our own government. It is interesting to note that one category of incidents compiled by CAIR-not to be found in the FBI report-is "FBI/Police/INS Intimidation," with a total of 224 reported cases. As HRW's Singh notes, "Since Sept. 11, a pall of suspicion has been cast over Arabs and Muslims in the United States. Public officials can help reduce bias violence against them by ensuring that the 'war against terrorism is focused on criminal behavior rather than whole communities."

This "pall of suspicion" has been extended further with the INS' controversial new "special registration" program, which overwhelmingly targets non-immigrant visa holders from Muslim and Arab countries. …