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The rise in Islamophobia: hate speech and violence against Muslims.

2001 to now: Recent hate crimes
against Muslims in the U.S.

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2001 to now: North American hate crimes targeting Muslims:

During 2001: Hate crimes against Muslims surged upwards immediately after the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington DC and the Pentagon. Violence was directed both at Muslims and at people who were apparently mistaken for Muslims, including the murders of a Sikh in Mesa, AZ, an Egyptian Coptic Christian in San Gabriel, CA, and another Christian from Egypt living in California. A gasoline bomb was thrown at a home of a Sikh family in California. In Canada, a Hindu Temples in Hamilton, ON, in Montreal, Quebec, St. Catherines, ON and Oshawa, ON were firebombed.

The anti-Arab and anti-Muslim backlash could have been much worse. However, pleas by religious, government and media leaders that Americans to pull together and to avoid stereotyping may well have prevented a many more murders and displays of blind rage and hatred. Also, some politicians in the U.S. and Canada visited local mosques as a sign of support.

After 2001: The frequency of hate crimes against Muslims -- as reported by the FBI in their annual hate crime reports -- gradually declined, reaching a minimum in 2009 of 107 reported hate crimes. 4

However, there is a widespread belief that for every reported hate crime, there are many crimes that are never reported and thus never become included in the official FBI statistics. In 2005, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a national poll of almost 80,000 persons. They concluded that the real level of hate crime is between 19 and 31 times higher than the numbers in the FBI reports, because:

  • Most hate crimes are not reported to police.
  • Many are not recorded by the police as hate crimes.

  • Some police forces do not forward hate crime data to state officials.
  • Some state officials do not report data accurately to the FBI.

Thus the annual FBI reports can only be used to suggest general trends from year to year, not absolute numbers. 5

2010: The number of reported hate crimes increased by about 50% over the previous year to 160 reported crimes. 4 The precipitous rise may have been caused by reactions to many Muslim congregations around the country attempting to construct or expand mosques. For example:

  • 2010-mid-MAY: Brentwood, TN: Muslims struggled to obtain approvals needed to construct their mosque. Although they finally obtained approval, intense community pressure arose from some people who feared that the leaders of the congregation had ties to terrorist organizations, The congregation abandoned the project.

  • 2010-MAY-24: Alpharetta, GA: The city council voted unanimously to reject an application by the Islamic Center of North Fulton to expand their mosque. 1

  • 2010-MAY to DEC: New York City: Local and national groups fought the construction of a Muslim community center some six blocks from ground zero in New York City. One ironic factor in this fight was that the sponsoring organization for the center is a Sufi group. Sufism is the most prominent mystical tradition within Islam. It is sometimes referred to as Islam's third denomination, alongside the majority Sunnis and minority Shais. Sufis are heavily oppressed in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and some other predominately Muslim countries. They, like Christians, are victims of religious hatred from followers of Wahhabism, the religion followed by Al Qaeda who organized 9/11. 1

We have never been able to locate similar opposition and animus towards Christian congregations in the U.S. wanting to build or expand their churches. [If you know of any, please inform us by email using the "Contact Us" link at the bottom of this page.]

Another cause of the increase in hate crimes might have been increased levels of Islamophobia promoted by various anti-Islamic groups and political commentators, and talk show hosts.

2001 hate crime statistics: These were issued by The FBI during late 2012-NOV. The total number of hate crime incidents victimizing Muslims was 157 -- essentially unchanged from 2010. 2 They may have remained high because of reactions to the killing of Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist group on 2011-MAY-02.

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2012-NOV: Assessment by Thomas Perez, of the federal Department of Justice:

Shortly before the release of the 2011 statistics, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the head of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, delivered the opening address at the grand opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Murfreesboro, TN. The congregation had endured years of community opposition, lawsuits, and vandalism before their building was completed. They received national coverage of their difficulties, and a lot of support from their community, from faith groups elsewhere in Tennessee and from other individuals and groups across the U.S. and beyond.

AAG Perez said:

"... without question we are seeing real challenges to the civil rights of Muslim Americans, including arsons of mosques, assaults, and other hate crimes.  We have a steady diet of these cases:   we have a trial starting in {2013-] January in a prosecution of a man for allegedly burning a mosque in Corvalis, OR.   We just indicted a man last month for setting fire to the Islamic Center of Toledo, OH.   And as you know, the Department of Justice prosecuted three neo-Nazis who burned the mosque in Columbia, TN to the ground four years ago. ..."

"But in addition to concern about hate crimes, what I hear when I go around the country talking to Muslim community leaders, is that they are as uneasy as at any time since immediately after 9/11, and perhaps even more so.   Back then, they knew that the violence was perpetrated by the same hate-filled people who if they weren’t burning a mosque would be burning a cross on someone’s lawn.   But what I am hearing, and seeing, is that in the last few years the bias has gone more mainstream.   Mosques that have been in communities for 20 or 30 years, participating in civic activities and being good neighbors, are being met with picket signs and demonstrations when they apply for building permits.  And you as a congregation know this first hand. ..."

"I need to emphasize that this is not the full picture of the Muslim-American community.   While this can be, as Dickens would say, an age of darkness, -- and as the Islamophobes we encounter in our work amply demonstrate, an age of foolishness -- it is also an age of wisdom and light.

Because the story of Muslims in America is a story of success.   While a large number of Muslims have experienced discrimination or overt animus, the Pew Research Center reports that 82% of Muslims are satisfied with their lives, a number slightly higher than the general population.   Muslim Americans are growing small businesses, earning advanced degrees in record numbers, building families, and thriving in so many ways. The Pew poll found that Muslims in America are pretty much like all other Americans (for better and worse)—watching sports on TV and playing video games at the same rates as everyone else, and going to worship services and self-identifying religion as an important thing in their lives at statistically identical rates as Christians.    

While 22 percent of Muslims in the Pew study report having been called offensive names in the last year, which is a troubling figure, 37% also say that a non-Muslim has gone out of their way in the last year to express support for them.   We are not seeing patterns of residential segregation of Muslims in the U.S., and Muslims are well integrated into the workforce and civic life of the United States." 3

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Examples of Islamophobia:

Pamela Geller, head of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, arranged to post anti-Muslim ads in San Francisco, CA busses. The program spread to New York City subway system, Metro stations in Washington DC, and light rail trains in Portland, OR. The New York and Washington transit authorities initially vetoed the ads, but were forced to post them after losing a lawsuit. The ads said:

"In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man."

Between two Stars of David -- Jewish symbols -- they said:

"Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." 6

Lizzy Ratner wrote in The Nation that Islamophobia is:

"... quite sadly, part of this country, outcroppings of something big and ugly that has been seeping and creeping through the body politic for years. In the decade since September 11, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry has become an entrenched feature of our political and social landscape. It lurks in the hidden corners of everyday life—in classrooms and offices and housing complexes—as well as in the ugly scenes that occasionally explode into public consciousness.

  • In the special registration of Middle Eastern men after 9/11.

  • In the vicious campaign against Debbie Almontaser, the American Muslim school teacher who tried to open the Arabic-language Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) and was tarred as an extremist.

  • In the attack on the Park51 Islamic [community] center, more commonly (if less accurately) known as the Ground Zero mosque.

  • In the New York Police Department’s selective surveillance of Muslim communities.

And that’s just New York City. All of these instances should have called on our horror and outrage, and in all too many of them, society hasn’t lived up.". 6

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Are attacks on Sikhs really misdirected Islamophobia?:

"Garabaldi" wrote in LoonWatch about the largely unreported problem of increasing violence against Sikhs in the U.S. As noted above, one murder of a Sikh and one attempted murder of a Sikh family occurred shortly after 9/11. Others have occurred since.

When Wade Michael Page, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist terrorist, massacred six Sikh Americans at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, WI on 2012-AUG-05, some people speculated that the mass killing was a case of mistaken identity. Many believed that Page thought he was slaughtering Muslims, and was unaware that they were Sikhs -- followers of an entirely different religion.

"Garabaldi" wrote:

"... in light of the rise in bias attacks and incidents against Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims, this story may be related to violent anti-Muslim Islamophobia and general xenophobia." 7

Simran Jeet Singh, a Sikh, has studied white supremacist web sites and discounts the belief in mistaken identity. He writes:

"... the national discourse has centered on the notion of 'mistaken identity.' Analysts and pundits have widely suggested that hate-crimes against Sikhs began in the post-Sept. 11 context due to confusion between Sikhs and Muslims. The popular narrative purports that all hate-violence committed against Sikhs, including the massacre in Oak Creek, is actually intended for Muslims. ..."

"We need to step back and rethink our assumptions in order to better understand the real source of this violence. Part of this reconsideration compels us to challenge the assumption that a white supremacist would not intend to target the Sikh community.

White supremacist Web sites clearly demonstrate that anti-Sikh sentiments are intentional and targeted. For example, Page frequented the message board of Hammerskins, 8 one of the most violent neo-Nazi skinhead groups in modern America, that often features obscenity laced, racially divisive statements from commenters.

Anti-Sikh statements on the site make it painfully obvious that feelings harbored by neo-Nazis are no mistake. They do not result from 'mistaken identity.' These sentiments are purposeful and targeted, and we perform an incredible injustice every time we overlook or oversimplify their motivations." 9

In short, educating the nation to differentiate between Muslims and Sikhs would not reduce attacks on Sikhs. White supremacists are consistent in their beliefs. Anyone who is not purely Caucasian is a member of a "mud race," and is to be despised and targeted. They hate both Muslims and Sikhs.

That said, relative few Americans are familiar with the beliefs, practices, and dress of religious minorities. The murder of a Sikh in Arizona and firebombing of a Sikh home in California shortly after 9/11 may well have been a case of mistaken identity.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Jess Spros, "Hate Crimes Against Muslims Remain Near Decade High," Think Progress, 2012-DEC-10, at: http://thinkprogress.org/
  2. "Table 1: Incidents, offenses, victims and known offenders by bias motivation, 2011," FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 2012-DEC, at: http://www.fbi.gov/
  3. "Assistant Attorney General Perez Speaks at the Grand Opening of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro," Department of Justice, 2012-NOV-18, at: http://www.justice.gov/
  4. "Hate Crime Statistics," in Uniform Crime Reports, Federal Bureau of Investigation. at: http://www.fbi.gov/
  5. "Report: FBI Hate Crime Statistics Vastly Understate Problem," Southern Poverty Law Center, 2005 Winter, Issue 120, at: http://www.splcenter.org/
  6. Lizzy Ratner, "The War Between the Civilized Man and Pamela Geller," The Nation, 2012-OCT-18, at: http://www.thenation.com/
  7. Garabaldi, "The Sikh Temple Carnage, White Supremacy and Islamophobia," LoonWatch.com, 2012-AUG-11, at: http://www.loonwatch.com/
  8. "Hammerskin Nation," home page, is at: http://www.hammerskins.net/ [Curiously, hammerskins.info and hammerskins.org are unused and available at nominal cost from GoDaddy.com]
  9. Simran Jeet Singh, "Was the deadly Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., a mistake?," Washington Post, 2012-SEP-10, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-JAN-27
Latest update: 2012-JAN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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