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Tighter Security Worries American Muslims


A new report says American Muslims are more apprehensive than ever about discrimination in the wake of the security crackdown following last September's terrorist attacks.

The report was compiled by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. It documents more than 1,500 discrimination complaints from members of the U.S. Muslim community last year, most in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks.

The complaints range from alleged racial profiling at airports to harassment on the job and, in some cases, outright assault.

Among those cases documented is that of Enaas Sarsour, a Virginia teenager who was stopped by security agents as she headed for a flight at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in December. "I was held at gunpoint and forced to take my headscarf off and I felt very humiliated and singled out," she explained, "and basically, I just don't want it to happen to anyone else."

The study by the Council on American-Islamic Relations says there was a three-fold increase in the number of anti-Muslim incidents during 2001 compared to the previous year.

The group's Executive Director, Nihad Awad, says the allegations of racial profiling at airports is particularly worrisome. "Unfortunately ... [with] the airport profiling, the major element and criteria has been ethnicity, religion, looks of people, rather than their actions. And this has sent a negative message to our community," he said.

But some of the incidents included in the report contain only sketchy details as best. For example, a complaint from a Muslim man in Iowa last December merely says he was selected for a security check prior to boarding his flight.

The report says the questioning of thousands of young Muslim men in recent months has been of little use to investigators and in some cases resulted in those who were contacted by authorities losing their jobs. The study also calls on federal courts and government agencies to do more to protect the civil rights of Muslim-Americans.

There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department. But Attorney General John Ashcroft has frequently promised vigorous investigation of hate crimes involving Muslim-Americans.

Mr. Ashcroft also said recently that the questioning of young Muslim men has been helpful to the terrorism investigation. "We believe that these individuals might, either wittingly or unwittingly, be in the same circles, communities or social groups as those engaged in terrorist activities," explained Mr. Ashcroft.

Despite the huge jump in alleged anti-Muslim incidents last year, officials with the Council on American-Islamic Relations say they are gratified by recent opinion polls indicating that Americans have a more favorable view of Muslims now than they had before last September's attacks.