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15 May, 2005

‘Islamophobia’ taking hold in the US

Originally Published: 15 May 2005

Since the 9/11 attacks, the most disturbing trend in the United States is the growing disparity in how American Muslims are being treated under the law on many different levels, says a report released last week by a prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group.

Called “Unequal Protection,” the report by the Washington DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) outlines 1,522 incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment in 2004, the highest number of Muslim civil rights cases ever recorded in the group’s annual report.

The report (downloadable in full from: http://www.cair-net.org/asp/2005CivilRightsReport.pdf) should be compulsory reading for members of the Anand Panyarachun panel, especially in the wake of the reported comments made by the former prime minister that Thai Muslims should “forget” Tak Bai in order to facilitate national reconciliation.

Quoting the late US civil rights lawyer Clarence Darrow’s words, ‘True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else,’ the report instead suggests that lessons be learnt from this accounting process.

It says, “Nearly four years removed from the 9/11 terror attacks, the greatest tragedy to befall our nation in modern history, our country has learned certain lessons that will hopefully lead us to a stronger, safer and more vibrant society for people of all races, faiths and cultures.”

The report indicates that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States increased by more than 50 percent in the past year, from 93 cases in 2003 to 141 in 2004. (Hundreds of anti-Muslim incidents reported immediately following the 9/11 attack were detailed in a separate report.)

Ten states accounted for almost 79 percent of all incidents reported to CAIR in 2004. Those states include: California (20 percent), New York (10 percent), Arizona (9 percent), Virginia (7 percent), Texas (7 percent), Florida (7 percent), Ohio (5 percent), Maryland (5 percent), New Jersey (5 percent), and Illinois (3 percent). (All figures are rounded to the nearest whole number.)

By far the greatest increase over last year, in both real and proportional terms, occurred in the areas of unreasonable arrests, detentions, searches/seizures, and interrogations. In 2003, complaints concerning law enforcement agencies accounted for only seven percent of all reported incidents. In 2004, however, these reports rose to almost 26 percent of all cases.

Although not a scientific study, the report identifies several factors which it says may have contributed to the increase in total number of reports to CAIR over the past year. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. An ongoing and lingering atmosphere of fear since the September 11 attacks against American Muslims, Arabs and South Asians;

2. The growing use of anti-Muslim rhetoric by some local and national opinion leaders;

3. Local Muslim communities, through the opening of new CAIR chapters and regional offices, now have more mechanisms to monitor and report incidents to CAIR at the grassroots level;

4. Following the infamous legacy of the USA PATRIOT Act, other federal legislation and policies which severely infringe on the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans continue to be passed;

5. Increased public awareness about civil liberties and the impact of federal law enforcement initiatives on constitutional and civil rights.

The report notes that there were drops in certain categories from the previous year’s report. For example, workplace discrimination complaints constituted nearly 23 percent of complaints in 2003, but dropped to just under 18 percent of total complaints in 2004. Complaints involving governmental agencies decreased from 29 percent in 2003 to 19 percent in 2004.

“These disturbing figures come as no surprise given growing Islamophobic sentiments and a general misperception of Islam and Muslims,” CAIR quoted its Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar, the report’s author, as saying.

Iftikhar said the phenomenon of Islamophobia will be addressed at a CAIR conference, called “Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism: Causes and Remedies,” to be held this weekend in Washington, D.C. See: http://www.cair-net.org/2005conference/

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad called on President Bush to speak out against Islamophobic attitudes and for Congress to hold hearings on the findings of CAIR’s report.

“In our conclusion, CAIR recommends that further congressional inquiries, inspector general reports from federal agencies and impact litigation continue to be used to ensure that the civil and legal rights of all Americans are never placed in jeopardy again,” the report says.

CAIR began documenting anti-Muslim incidents following the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The council is America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, with 31 regional offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

The report directs harsh criticism at former Attorney General John Ashcroft who, in the months directly following 9/11 used his powers under section 412 of the now infamous USA PATRIOT Act2, to round up and imprison well over 12,003 Muslim and Arab men based solely on pretextual immigration violations.

“The most disconcerting fact about these mass round-ups was the fact that the Justice Department refused to disclose the detainees’ identities, give them access to lawyers or allow them to have contact with their families,” the report says.

In addition to the indiscriminate immigrant dragnet after September 11, several high profile cases against American Muslims further stigmatized the American Muslim community.

“For example, after spending seventy-six days in solitary confinement and being labeled a ‘spy’ in most media circles, where can Army chaplain and West Point graduate Captain James Yee go to regain his respectability after being falsely accused of treasonous crimes that could have resulted in the death penalty?

“Where might Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield reclaim his good name after being falsely linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004? How does Sami Al-Hussayen resume a normal life with his family after being found not guilty of ‘aiding terrorists’ while serving as a webmaster and exercising his First Amendment right to free speech?”

The report stresses: “The American Muslim community has always categorically condemned acts of terrorism and believes that those who break the law should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“However, in order to remain consistent with the constitutional hallmarks of due process and ‘equal protection’ under the law, it is essential that our law enforcement agencies enforce and apply the law in a consistent manner to all people rather than selectively target people based on their religious or ethnic affiliation.

“It is time once again for American society to reclaim its true legal tradition and judge a person on the criminality of their acts; not on the color of his skin or the religion to which she adheres.”