BBC, Nov. 19, 2002
By Kevin Anderson
Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in the United States increased by 1,700% in 2001, according to crime statistics compiled by the FBI.
Human Rights Watch has criticised US authorities for not doing enough to stem the backlash following the 11 September attacks.
Muslims and Arabs have faced a backlash after other events linked to the Middle East in the last two decades, the group said, calling on the authorities to take steps to head off such violence in the future.
Rise in hate crimes
In 2000, the FBI received reports of 28 hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs in the US. In 2001, that number increased to 481.
Local statistics demonstrate even further the dramatic rise in hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims.
In Chicago, the police department reported only four anti-Muslim or anti-Arab hate crimes during the year 2000, but in just three months – September-November 2001 – there were 51 such crimes reported.
A US Justice Department study found that an estimated 75% of hate crimes go unreported, said Amardeep Singh of Human Rights Watch.
The hate crimes included the murder of at least three people.
Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh and father of three, was killed as he planted flowers at his gas station four days after the 11 September attacks.
Police said that the alleged killer bragged at a local bar that he was going to “kill the ragheads responsible for 11 September”.
Assaults and attacks on places of worship were widespread.
On 12 September 2001, 100 police officers stopped an angry mob as they marched on a mosque in Bridgeview Illinois.
The mob shouted slogans such as “Arabs go home” and hurled abuse at passers-by who looked Muslim or Arab.
Human Rights Watch says that authorities should have seen the backlash coming and done more to prevent crimes against Muslims and Arabs.
This is not the first time that hate crimes against Muslims has increased.
Middle Easterners experienced a backlash after the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Gulf War and after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City.
Although Timothy McVeigh was eventually arrested for the 1995 attack, early reports linked the attack to Middle Eastern men.
Conspiracy theorists are still trying to link the bombing with Arab terrorists.
“Government officials didn’t sit on their hands while Muslims and Arabs were attacked after September 11, but law enforcement and other government agencies should have been better prepared for this kind of onslaught,” Mr Singh said.
He also accused the US Government of sending mixed messages in trying to head off a violent backlash.
“The concern is that while the government is pounding the pulpit of tolerance with the right hand, that with the left hand it is pushing aside very American traditions of equality,” Mr Singh said.
While members of the government including President Bush made very public statements of support for Muslim-Americans, the government focussed its anti-terrorism efforts on Arabs and Muslims.
Those anti-terrorism measures included secret detentions and deportations.
Quick to act
But the report also had what appeared to be welcome exceptions.
Some 30% of the population of Dearborn Michigan are immigrants from the Middle East.
Police and city officials have worked to reach out to the Middle Eastern population there after a racially charged incident at the high school in 1995 that led to a Justice Department investigation, said Police Chief Greg Guibord.
Relations improved as a result, and the city hosts an annual festival celebrating Arabic culture.
Immediately in the wake of the 11 September attacks, city officials met with representatives from the Arab community. They were concerned about their safety.
Extra patrols were added near mosques and Arab neighbourhoods.
Chief Guibord went on record saying that members of the Arab-American community were not the people responsible for the attacks. “Just because people are from a certain race doesn’t make them guilty,” he said.
And he added: “There was a statement made by this community that we are not going to tolerate any type of violence in any form.”
The community did not experience a rise in hate crimes.
But he says that this was the result of years of dialogue between city leaders and the Arab community.
And he added it might be difficult in areas where Muslims formed a much smaller part of the community.