Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2006 (IPS) — Complaints involving anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment and violence jumped over 30 percent in 2005 compared to 2004, according to a new report released here Monday by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim organisation.

A total of 1,972 such incidents were reported in 2005. That was the highest number since CAIR began reporting anti-Muslim incidents in 1995, the year that the bombing by right-wing extremists of the federal government building in Oklahoma City, blamed initially by the mass media on Arab radicals, set off a rash of anti-Muslim attacks.

CAIR said it had also received 153 reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes, an increase of nearly 10 percent over 2004, and more than 50 percent over the 93 reports received in 2003.

“[I]t is clear that there remains a growing atmosphere of fear and hostility toward American Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asians,” this year’s report concluded, noting that recent public opinion surveys have likewise shown a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment among the general public here.

The yearly number of complaints of civil-rights-related incidents – that is, discrimination, harassment, and violence that did not rise to the level of hate crimes – tripled between the April 1995 Oklahoma bombing and mid-1997 from 80 to 240. It then climbed gradually up to 366 over the following four years before the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Since, then, however, the number of reported incidents have risen sharply – from 602 in 2002, to 1,019 in 2003, to 1,522 in 2004, to just under 2,000 last year, according to the report which suggested that increased awareness of civil rights issues within the U.S. Muslim community, as well as a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment as reflected in the polls, may have combined to push the totals ever higher.

But the author of the report, CAIR Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar, insisted that media, including the Internet, is the single most important cause of the latter.

“We believe the biggest factor contributing to anti-Muslim feeling and the resulting acts of bias is the growth in Islamophobic rhetoric that has flooded the Internet and talk radio in the post 9/11 era,” he said. “You can’t turn on the radio without hearing negative, bigoted comments about Islam.”

Of the civil rights-related complaints, the greatest number involved suspected racial profiling and unreasonable detentions or arrests. Less frequent were reports of discrimination against Muslims in housing and employment.

CAIR said it actually received some 2,300 complaints of anti-Muslim incidents during the year but, after initial investigations, found that more than 300 were ill-founded.

Among the worst hate-crime incidents in 2005 were a December pipe-bombing of a mosque in Cincinnati; an October beating by a group of teenagers of an elderly man who was leaving a mosque in Arizona; another October assault of a pregnant woman in Virginia by three men who shouted anti-Muslim slurs; and a November shooting of two cars parked near a mosque in the Philadelphia area.

CAIR noted that federal authorities, notably the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have generally shown more commitment to investigating possible hate crimes against Muslims than local authorities.

It also found that 10 states accounted for nearly four out of five civil rights-related complaints. In descending order, they were California (19 percent); Illinois (14 percent); New York (nine percent); Texas (eight percent); Virginia (seven percent), Florida (six percent), District of Columbia (five percent); Maryland (four percent); Ohio and New Jersey (four percent).

The report cited a number of public opinion surveys that found a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment over recent years.

Two polls cited in the report found that almost half of the public has a negative perception of Islam and that one in four citizens holds “extreme” anti-Muslim views.

Another survey commissioned by CAIR itself found that about one-quarter of respondents believe stereotypes such as “Muslims value life less than other people” and “The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred.” Those holding the most negative views tended to be older, less-educated and politically on the right, according to these surveys. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. citizens say they have never met a Muslim.

Another poll cited in the report, by ABC-News and the Washington Post, found that one in four citizens admitting to being prejudiced against Muslims and that 46 percent have a negative view of Islam, a seven-percent jump since just after the 9/11 attacks. The same poll found that the percentage of U.S. citizens who believe Islam promotes violence has more than doubled since 2002.

Nonetheless, a survey taken last spring by the Pew Global Attitudes Projects, found that U.S. attitudes toward Muslims and Islam tended to be less negative than some other western nations, particularly among non-Muslims in Spain and Germany.

Just over four in 10 U.S. respondents said they associated fanaticism with Muslims in the poll, compared to four out of five Spanish and German respondents and half of French and British respondents.

Forty-five percent of U.S. respondents said they associated violence with Islam, compared with 52 percent of Germans and 60 of Spanish. On the other hand, only one in three Britons made that association.

The same poll found that 40 percent of U.S. respondents believed that there was a “conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society” compared to 70 percent of Germans, 58 percent of Spanish, and 54 percent of Britons who agreed. Three out of four French respondents, on the other hand, insisted there was no such conflict.

CAIR, with chapters in virtually every U.S. state, has initiated a number of inter-religious dialogues across the country in recent years. It has also provided free copies of the Quran and DVDs of a public television documentary on the life of Muhammad to the general public.

At a meeting of its national leadership here earlier this month, former Iranian President Muhammad Khatami called on CAIR to inform non-Muslims that Islam is a “religion of love, tolerance, and co-existence” and to “fight Islamophobia with all legitimate means that are available to you.”


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