Associated Press, July 16, 2003
WASHINGTON — Government efforts to crack down on terrorism contributed to an increase in reports of discrimination and harassment of Muslims in the United States last year, an Islamic advocacy group says. The Justice Department called the allegations “unfair.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Tuesday that post-Sept. 11 government actions have broadly targeted Arabs and Muslims.
“The government has employed and is employing policies and practices based on religion and ethnicity,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based group.
Of particular concern were special registration requirements that single out students and visitors from Muslim nations as well as raids on Muslim homes and businesses that ended with no charges being filed.
Justice Department spokesman Jorge Martinez called the council’s accusations irresponsible. “We’re talking about unfair criticism based on a lot of misinformation and propaganda,” Martinez said.
He said law enforcement measures taken after the terror attacks were meant to ensure the safety of all Americans and do so within the bounds of the Constitution.
CAIR Research director Mohamed Nimer said the government’s actions have encouraged other citizens to target Muslims.
In Florida, the report said, there have been a number of attacks against Islamic institutions. In one case, a man drove his truck into a mosque in Tallahassee. No one was hurt.
Martinez countered that the agency has made prosecuting “backlash crimes” against Muslims a priority. Those crimes include harassment and vandalism based on religion.
“We take any form of discrimination very seriously and we will do everything possible to make sure that these types of crimes never happen again,” Martinez said.
The department has opened approximately 500 cases involving backlash crimes, Martinez said.
The council’s annual study found a 15 percent increase last year in the number of incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment.
The report was based on complaints received by the council, but when comparing the data to 2001, the researchers did not include an abnormal spike seen in complaints in the days following the attacks on New York and Washington. Nimer explained that some complaints seen in the spike were deemed untrue or unsubstantiated.
For 2002, the council said it received 602 complaints of discrimination and harassment, compared to 525 valid complaints for the previous year.
Job discrimination, employee harassment and other workplace claims were the most frequent, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total, the report said. Complaints that charged local and federal government agencies with civil liberties violations came in second, at 23 percent.
The report also cited what it called a disturbing new trend of police profiling incidents in which Muslims were stopped and questioned while engaged in mundane activities such as walking down the street or in shopping malls.
Besides government actions, the council’s Nimer also laid some of the blame for the overall increase on “high profile religious and political leaders making crude anti-Muslim statements, people like Jerry Falwell calling the Prophet Muhammad on national TV a terrorist.” Falwell later apologized for the remark.