The Obama administration says Muslim-Americans continue to be prime targets for hate, abuse and discrimination, a situation that requires proactive efforts by authorities to combat. Safeguarding the rights of Muslims in the United States was the focus of a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
Nearly 10 years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the incidents may no longer be fresh in America's collective consciousness, but the fallout for the nation's Muslim community remains all too real. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights.
"Regrettably, we continue to see a steady stream of violence and discrimination targeting Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian communities," said Perez. "In each city and town where I have met with [Muslim and other minority] leaders, I have been struck by the sense of fear that pervades their lives: fear of violence, bigotry, hate, discrimination."
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Perez says the abuse is particularly acute and painful for U.S.-born Muslim children.
"I consistently hear complaints that children face harassment in schools, that they are called terrorists and told to go home, even though this [the United States] is their home," added Perez.
Federal statistics show a substantial increase in hate crimes targeting Muslim-Americans since 2001. Democratic Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois placed part of the blame on political and religious figures in the United States who denigrate Islam.
"A leading member of Congress stated bluntly: 'There are too many mosques in this country.' And even a prominent religious leader said Islam is 'wicked and evil.' Such inflammatory speech from prominent public figures creates a fertile climate for discrimination," said Durbin.
Along with freedom of worship, freedom of speech is a cherished American civil right, even when words are used in objectionable ways. The balance of rights and responsibilities in a free society was the focus of comments by South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who decried intolerance while stressing what he sees as a prime responsibility of Muslim-American citizens. Specifically, he called on Muslims to battle the spread of radical Islam.
"To the American Muslim community, I will stand with you as you practice your religion and you exercise your rights under the Constitution," said Graham. "But I am asking you to get in this fight as a community, and let it be known to your young people that there are lines you will not cross. And there are radical messages being spread by people who would kill every moderate Muslim, Jew, Gentile and agnostic alike. That we are all in this together."
Last year saw a domestic terror plot to bomb New York's Times Square foiled thanks to a vigilant Muslim who alerted authorities, a fact that Senator Durbin was quick to highlight.
"Since 9/11, we have worked to combat terrorism," said Durbin. "We continue to solicit and receive the support of many Muslim-Americans who love this nation and work with our government to protect it."
A 2010 study funded by the National Institute of Justice concluded that, although Muslim-Americans continue to be victims of bias and discrimination, the community has adopted self-policing practices to guard against radical ideology, and that the proportion of radicalized Muslim-Americans is extremely small.