Violence, bias against Muslims up nearly 70%

Reported hate crimes more than doubled in '03, Islamic rights group says

May 04, 2004|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

Two teen-agers set a small cross on fire last July on the lawn of an Islamic school and mosque in College Park. That act was among more than a thousand reported incidents of harassment, violence and discrimination against Muslims nationwide in the past year - an increase of nearly 70 percent over 2002, according to the nation's largest Muslim civil rights group.

In a report released yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that reported hate crimes against Muslims in the United States more than doubled in the past year from 42 to 93. At the same time, overall complaints of harassment, violence and discrimination, including hate crimes, leapt from 602 to 1019, CAIR said.

Maryland accounted for 40 of the 1019 cases.

The report attributed the overall increase in incidents to a lingering atmosphere of fear from the 9/11 attacks, hostility driven by Iraq war rhetoric, what CAIR called abuse of the USA Patriot Act and an increase in CAIR offices nationwide.

"It shows that there is a growing problem here and that it's getting worse and worse," said Mohamed Nimer, CAIR's director of research and the author of the report, "Unpatriotic Acts."

"It boils down to a logic of prejudice that is holding Muslims - because of real or perceived religious and ethnic background - responsible for whatever other Muslims do," he said.

Despite the increase in overall complaints, the report contained some good news for Muslims. The number of cases of airline passenger profiling, detention, seizure and what the report called unreasonable arrest dropped from 72 to 41.

"The government is doing less of that," said Nimer, "and one of the reasons is the atmosphere of panic that characterized the immediate atmosphere after 9/11 has lessened."

The nature of the cases detailed in the 27-page report vary in severity.

The most alarming example involved a man named Larme Price, who was charged with murder in New York City in a 2003 shooting spree that left four dead. Police said Price told them he wanted to kill Arabs in revenge for 9/11. Only one of his victims was from the Middle East.

Police, though, suggested that the crime may not have been as clear cut as the suspect suggested. "As much as he says he had something against Middle Eastern people, he actually - he hated everybody," Lt. John Cornicello told The New York Times last year.

Early one morning in July, two teen-agers set a cross on fire on the lawn of the Al-Huda School and Dar-us-Salaam mosque in College Park.

"I think everyone was shocked," said Minhaj Hasan, a board member of the Islamic community center that operates the school and mosque. "All the discrimination and attacks we're hearing about ... it hit home here."

Hasan said community members became less concerned when they realized that the cross burning was not the work of an organized group, such as the Ku Klux Klan, but a pair of teen-agers. Still, Hasan said the cross burning was clearly a hate crime, driven in part by what he calls the media's and Hollywood's negative portrayal of Muslims as suicide bombers.

The CAIR report also notes anti-Muslim rhetoric on talk radio and elsewhere as a contributing factor in the increased number of cases. The report names Army Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, an evangelical Christian who serves as deputy defense undersecretary for intelligence.

In public speeches, Boykin said radical Muslims hate the United States because it is a "Christian nation." In discussing a battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, Boykin said: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real god and his was an idol."

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