Fear of Islam on the Rise Muslim Group
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.
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
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."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service