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Officials: Hate Crimes Against Muslims in US Increasing

  • Deborah Block

A new report says the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the United States increased last year. The Council of American-Islamic Relations released its findings at a news conference in Washington this week.

The Council of American-Islamic Relations says hate crimes against Muslims doubled in 2004. In its annual civil rights report, the Washington-based Islamic advocacy group says U.S. Muslims reported about 1,500 cases of hate crimes, unreasonable arrest, harassment and other alleged civil rights violations.

Arsalan Iftikhar, the organization's legal director says, "With over 1,500 reports of civil rights violations against the American Muslim community, in the last calendar year, it is apparent the post 9/11 backlash against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians continues to be a societal problem which needs to be redressed accordingly."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the F-B-I, has not yet published statistics on hate crimes for 2004, but it tallied almost 150 incidents allegedly aimed at American Muslims in 2003. It has many more reports of hate crimes against Jewish Americans.

The council, however, says its estimate of hate crimes last year stem from Muslims reporting more of the incidents. It also attributed the jump, in part, to continued suspicions of Muslims and Arab-Americans since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Attorney Paul Rosenzweig analyzes legal issues at the Heritage Foundation, a politically conservative, research group in Washington. He says although most Muslims in the U.S. are law-abiding citizens, the threat by Islamic fundamentalists is real.

"What really tarnishes the community, if anything, is not our reaction to that threat, it is the fact that other places in the world, not necessarily here, foster that Islamist fundamentalism, that is a threat to people throughout the Western World," says Mr. Rosenzweig.

The Executive Director of the American Islamic Relations Council, Nihad Awad, blames some members of the media for prejudice against Muslims by casting, what he calls, a dark light on Muslim commitment to the security of the United States.

According to Nihad Awad, "That has given a platform for Islamophobia and for people to mistreat the Muslim community and view it with suspicion, which I believe has led to the increase of discriminations against Muslims in America."

But Mr. Rosenzweig disagrees. "The media, I think, are reporting reality... If anything, my own perception is that the press has been quite even-handed and has been attempting in its somewhat successful way to tamp down on anti-Islamic sentiment."

The Council says the biggest category of violations in the report are unreasonable arrests, surveillance, interrogation, and search or seizure. They made up about one-fourth of all complaints. The group cites the case of Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim lawyer from Oregon who was jailed last year on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings. He was released, and the F-B-I apologized, after discovering it had mistakenly matched a fingerprint from the crime to him.

"These are just some of the high profile cases in which American Muslims were wrongly accused to be linked to some sort of terrorism, only to be fully exonerated. But the damage of tarnishing Muslims has already taken its course," says Arsalan Iftikhar.

The Council charges that American Muslims are being prosecuted by government agencies, especially the Justice Department. The Justice Department says it has not singled out Muslims for prosecution. It adds that the department has investigated more than 650 crimes against Muslims since 9/11, resulting in prosecutions by authorities.

The Council says despite the rise in hate crimes, workplace discrimination against American Muslims had decreased. It also says complaints involving government agencies had declined.