Hate crimes against Muslims increase

C By Aidian Holder

cOLUMBIA, Mo. (U-WIRE) – Muslims and Arab-Americans have been the target of a rash of hate crimes in the months immediately following last year’s terrorist attacks, according to a new FBI report.

The 2001 anti-Islamic hate crimes rose by 1,600 percent from 2000. While the total of 546 anti-Islamic hate crimes is still a small percentage of the 11,451 hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2001, the vast majority of the anti-Islamic crimes came in the quarter following Sept. 11.

The report also found that Muslims suffered more serious assaults than other religious groups, with more than twice as many aggravated assaults targeting them than any other religious group.

These numbers are probably understated because many hate crimes are never reported to police. The FBI report only includes a narrow set of offenses that are clearly motivated solely by hatred of the victims’ status.

“That might be a very conservative amount; the number may be much higher,” said Hassan Mirza, legal and civil rights consultant for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and an associate professor at George Washington University.

Mirza said many Arab-Americans may be leery of contacting authorities when they’ve been victimized by a hate crime because of the extensive FBI investigations into many Muslim organizations after Sept. 11, 2001.

Despite the nationwide increase, Columbia, Mo., has seen few hate crimes, and none that rise to the level of serious violent crime.

Beyond one disturbed man’s vandalism of the Columns this summer, University of Missouri Police Department Maj. Jack Watring said he can’t remember the last reported hate crime in Columbia.

“I don’t believe we’ve had any,” Watring said. “Usually you get a pretty good feel for that kind of thing.

Pablo Mendoza, director of MU’s Multicultural Affairs office, echoed Watring’s sentiments and said Columbia is a tolerant town, but also warned that “there have been incidents that I don’t think have been reported.”

Most local incidents involve racial epitaphs, not violence, Mendoza said.

While everyone agrees the increase of hate crimes was sparked by last year’s terrorist attacks, some observers have blamed Bush administration policies for contributing to an environment that allows anti-Muslim prejudice.

“When you hear an FBI agent say they detained someone for seven months (because he’s an Arab) even though they don’t have any cause, you start to think it’s OK to act on your prejudice,” Mirza said.

Mirza also faults certain evangelical Christians’ attacks on Islam.

On Sunday’s broadcast of ABC’s “This Week,” Christian leader Pat Robertson said Islam “is not evil to its core, it is violent to its core.”

“What do you say, what can you say to that,” said Mirza. “I could go off on the guy, but I’d rather not.”