AP, Mar. 28, 2003
DEBORAH KONG, Associated Press
Advocates who track such incidents say they’ve heard about a dozen potential hate crimes – most involving verbal harassment or property damage to Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs – since the war began last week.
“The longer the war goes on and the higher the number of American casualties there, I think probably you can make a correlation there would be more hate crimes and harassment against Arab-Americans and those perceived to be,” said Laila Al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Among the incidents, bottles rigged to explode with dry ice and water were tossed into the back yard of a Christian Iraqi-American family in Phoenix, and in Burbank, Ill., an explosive device was thrown into a Muslim family’s van, destroying it. Police were investigating whether the cases are hate crimes.
At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, someone scrawled “Suicide bomb yourselves” in permanent marker on a display board at the Muslim Student Association’s offices. In Eugene, Ore., a man was charged with a hate crime after he approached a Sikh woman’s car and pointed both index fingers at her, pretending to shoot.
The Sikh Coalition has placed ads in Punjabi-language media urging people to report incidents. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Sikhs were mistakenly associated with Osama bin Laden because they wear turbans and grow beards as signs of their faith.
“People are misinformed about who Sikhs are,” said Harpreet Singh, the coalition’s director of community relations, adding that someone spit on his car as he drove recently from New York to Washington, D.C.
Earlier this week, two teenagers were charged with committing a hate crime for allegedly smashing a window at a Villa Park, Ill., mosque as about 100 people prayed inside on March 11.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has distributed “safety kits” to mosques, community leaders and others with tips on preventing hate crimes, developing relationships with law enforcement, safeguarding legal rights and responding to anti-Muslim incidents.
Some mosques have canceled activities and are carefully watching newcomers, said Omar Haydar, executive director of the council’s Chicago chapter.
“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “The mosque is supposed to make people feel welcome, not someplace where you should be scrutinized.”
Advocates agreed the backlash attacks are not comparable to those in the year after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“There are a lot of variables to determine whether or not this will be a severe backlash – how long the war lasts, if there are increasing American casualties, if there are, God forbid, terrorist attacks in retaliation for the war,” said Hodan Hassan, a spokeswoman for the council.