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Violence, Discrimination Against US Muslims Increases, says Report - 2003-07-15

A new report released by an Islamic civil rights group says violence and discrimination against Muslims in the United States continues to rise.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says its office received just over 600 reports of attacks and discrimination against Muslims last year, an increase of 15 percent over 2001 and a 64 percent increase compared to the year 2000.

The council's executive director, Nihad Awad, called the increase "very disturbing" and says the findings are mainly due to the continuing antagonism that followed the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

After those attacks, the U.S. Justice Department detained and questioned hundreds of Arabs, particularly for immigration violations.

Mr. Awad says Muslims in the United States are worried they will be found "guilty by association" because of their religion and ethnic backgrounds.

"We believe that the challenge remains for this country to balance between civil rights and security," he said. "We cannot sacrifice one for the other. We need both. We need to do a better job on both."

The council's report says the incidents of alleged abuses include employment discrimination, assaults, verbal harassment, arrests and profiling by law enforcement agencies.

Nihad Awad called on the Bush administration to renew its effort to reach out to the Muslim community in a bid to prevent a continuing backlash from the September 11 attacks.

"The government should send a clear message to confirm the speech that the president has given early on," he said. "The Muslim community is not a target. Islam is not the target. Terrorism is the target. The Muslim community now feels it has been a target and the government has to send a different message."

Officials from the Islamic advocacy group say they have begun to hold forums around the country with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officials from the Department of Homeland Security.

The council's spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, says sensitivity training sessions are helping law enforcement officials and the general public gain a better understanding of Muslims in the United States.

"While it sometimes appears we are critical of the government, we are also working in cooperation with the government to resolve these kinds of issues," he said. "Because we believe a lot of this discrimination is based on misinformation and lack of education we also have a couple of positive outreach programs going."

Mr. Hooper says the Council on American-Islamic Relations has placed reading materials on Islam in more than 16,000 public libraries in the United States.

Earlier this year the group launched an ad campaign called "Islam in America" designed to show how an estimated seven million Muslims are leading normal lives throughout the country.