The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the USA defines hate crimes as "criminal offenses motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against" a particular group such as a religion, race or sexual orientation. In the USA, 45 states and the federal government have some type of hate crime statute.
Hate crimes are on the rise all across Europe, Canada and the USA. Last week, two mosques in Hawthorne, near Los Angeles, California were vandalized. Two days earlier, a mosque in Coachella Valley, California, was set on fire by a white American Christian. On Dec. 7 someone left a severed pig’s head outside the Al Aqsa Islamic Society in West Philadelphia.
On the Thanksgiving night, a Moroccan American taxi cab driver was shot in Hazelwood, near Pittsburgh; the bullet lodged in his back between his shoulder blades. He was admitted to the UPMC Mercy hospital.
Last Saturday, a man who identified himself as a former Marine called a mosque in St. Louis, threatening violence against its members.
A day before that, someone vandalized a mosque in Florida, breaking in its windows and overturning the furniture. And before that, a Qur’an was torn up and smeared with feces before being left at the door of a Texas mosque. Incidents also included hateful graffiti in Connecticut and “innumerable hate messages sent online and by phone.”
Even the Sikhs are not immune from such hate crimes. Last week (Dec. 15, 2015), a Michigan liquor store clerk fought back after a robber shoved a rifle into his mouth and called him a terrorist. The gunman demanded money from the clerk, who is of Indian descent, and led him just before midnight Saturday into a back room at Bottlenecks Food and Drink Shop in Grand Rapids, reported WXMI-TV. The 34-year-old clerk said the gunman accused him of being part of the ISIL/S militant group and called him a “terrorist.”
“I used to kill people like you in Iraq with no problem,” the gunman said, and shoved the barrel of the gun into the clerk’s mouth. The clerk, whose name is Tony, grabbed the rifle just before the gunman pulled the trigger and was shot in the cheek.
The masked gunman, who was described as a black man about 6 feet tall, fired two more shots before running away with an undetermined amount of cash. “It could’ve happened to anyone that looks like us,” said Gurleen Kaur, the storeowner’s daughter, who is also of Indian descent.
She doesn’t understand why the gunman, who hurled ethnic slurs at the clerk throughout the robbery, associated the clerk with terrorism. Her father, Inderjit Singh, has owned the party supply store for five years. “We’re Americans,” Kaur said. “We’re trying to live normal lives, be Americans.”
Erika Menendez was charged with murdering a man last year by pushing him in front of an oncoming subway train in New York because she mistakenly thought he was Muslim. There is also speculation that the 2012 Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin occurred because the killer thought he was targeting a mosque
In Canada, police confirmed an arson in mid-November at a Peterborough, Ontario mosque was being treated as a hate crime after it was allegedly torched Saturday night, and an alleged assault on a Muslim woman in Toronto on Monday was also being investigated as a hate crime after police said two men punched her in the stomach and face and called her a terrorist.
BuzzFeed News has recorded dozens of such incidents of hate crimes against Muslims in the USA last month (see the appendix below).
Headlines like these now appear on a fairly consistent basis, cataloguing a growing list of vandalisms, threats and even violent attacks on Muslims in the United States. [See also: For American Muslims, environment of fear now recalls 9/11]
Here below is some statistics from the FBI in the last few years (2000-2014).
As can be seen since 2012 from the FBI data, while Muslims in the USA comprise less than 1% (est. 2.8 million), they are (at least) 10 time more likely to be the victims of religious-based hate crimes than the average population. [Note: the FBI statistics are known to be notoriously understated, in part because more than half of hate crimes are never reported to police. Two major Department of Justice (DOJ) studies have indicated that the real level of hate crimes in America is some 20 to 30 times higher than the numbers reported over the years by the FBI, which are simply compilations of state statistics. If the FBI numbers are taken as only an indicator of larger trends, as seems reasonable given the DOJ studies, the real number of anti-Muslim hate crimes during 2011 may have been somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000. While the FBI's statistics underreport the actual number of hate crimes it can be indicative of general trends. Anti-Islamic hate crimes have increased significantly nationwide since 2009. Collectively, crimes targeting Muslims spiked from 107 in 2009 to 160 in 2010, a 49.5 percent increase and the largest since 2001, according to the FBI. There were 157 incidents in 2011, the last year for which federal hate-crime data is available.]
Although the data for 2015 is not yet available, it is probable that the number of attacks will rise again, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. CAIR, the Muslim advocacy group, has already begun tracking anti-Muslim incidents across the U.S. after the Paris attacks.
According to CAIR more mosque incidents were recorded in 2015 than in any year since it started keeping this tally. 2015 accounted for the most ever cases in both the Damage, Destruction, Vandalism category and the Intimidation category, adding weight to assertions that the most recent cycle of Islamophobia is characterized by its violent tone.
Brian Levin, Director, Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, California State University, writes in the Huffington Post, “The number of reported anti-Islamic hate crimes over the last five years, as classified by police, has averaged 12.6 per month, with an average annual number of 150.8 according to the FBI data. In the month following the Paris attacks, from November 13 to December 13, there have been at least 37 suspected hate crimes and eleven alone in the week following the San Bernardino terror attack. The 37 suspected hate crime cases are 2.94 times the average calendar monthly number seen from 2010-2014.”
As can be seen November 2015 saw the most significant spike, with a total of 17 mosque incidents, with all but 2 of those incidents occurring in the wake of the November 13 Paris terror attacks. No comparable spike was observed following the January 7 Paris terror attacks, with 5 incidents occurring the entire month of January.
What could explain such incidents of hate crimes? One is usually tempted to connect incidents like the 9/11, Paris and San Bernardino with such spikes of hate crimes. But Dalia Mogahed who is Chairman and CEO of Mogahed Consulting and former Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies argues differently. In a well-researched article she writes "anti-Muslim sentiment is almost entirely independent of the events of international conflicts, or even terrorist acts on U.S. soil, and much more tightly linked to election cycles and building domestic consent.”
As horrific as the attacks of September 11th 2001 were, Mogahed argues that the rise and fall (mostly rise) of negative sentiment toward Muslims and Islam in America does not coincide with this or any other Al-Qaeda act of violence. “Instead, levels of anti-Muslim sentiment follow trends in domestic U.S. politics, not international terrorism."
The 2010 surge was stimulated by opposition to construction of the Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York, efforts like Oklahoma’s to ban the supposed threat of Sharia Law being used in state courtrooms and the cacophonous political rhetoric that the issues spawned, said Corey Saylor, legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group.
"Even before the recent attacks [Paris and San Bernardino], hate crimes and threats against Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Americans were at the highest they had been since 9/11. Now, we are seeing an even more significant rise in reports of discrimination and violence against American Muslims or those who appear to be Muslim," said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Hina Shamsi in a statement.
By November 2015, Islam was a central issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, with GOP frontrunner candidate Donald Trump calling for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Another Republican presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, said that the U.S. should only accept Christians from Syria and bar Muslim refugees because "there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” Other candidates have boldly argued for shuttering mosques, registering Muslims in databases, killing relatives of terrorists, denying entry to orphan children, waterboarding, creating a government agency to promote "Judeo-Christian Western values" as well establishing a religious test for refugee admission and the presidency. Ben Carson likened Muslim refugees to rabid dogs. Twenty-five U.S. governors have come out against accepting Syrian refugees into their states.
This lends additional weight to the argument that “levels of anti-Muslim sentiment follow trends in domestic U.S. politics, not international terrorism.”
As hate offenders rely, in part, on harmful stereotypes in the overall culture to craft and direct hatreds, the rise in hate crimes may very well be the symptom of a climate that is increasingly hostile to Muslim Americans' meaningful inclusion in civil society.
“The mainstreaming of Islamophobia by a number of our nation’s political and religious leaders has encouraged the latest hate-filled actions of anti-Muslim bigots,” CAIR communications director Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement. “Now is the time for those leaders who are concerned about traditional American values of religious inclusion and tolerance to speak out against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime.”
“There is a network in this country that was slowly gaining steam over the last decade to heighten fear of Muslims,” Saylor said. “Whenever you have people who are afraid, some within that group are going to lash out.”
The researchers studying hate crimes have also found that a high concentration of Muslims in a state was not an automatic indicator that they encountered more discrimination there. Nor was the presence of hate groups in the area. No anti-Muslim hate groups existed in 2009, but there were 30 by 2011, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
Before the September 11 attacks, there were very few anti-Islamic hate crimes, according to the FBI. The number of incidents skyrocketed by more than 1,600 percent from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 and has remained above 100 every year since. The number of hate crimes plummeted by 68 percent from 481 in 2001 to 155 in 2002, largely due to President George W. Bush’s speeches in the aftermath of 9/11,emphasizing that Muslim Americans were not the enemy.
Within days of the terrorist attacks President Bush famously visited the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. and told the nation that “The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”
On September 20th, in an address to a joint session of congress and the American people in the United States Capitol, President Bush reiterated this message. “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends.”
To the credit of Bush Jr., the president set the tone for the country. In those first few weeks after 9/11 when emotions were raw, which could have witnessed a disastrous period of anti-Muslim hatemongering, the leader of the nation called for tolerance.
And so between 9/11 and November of 2001, Americans felt more positive about their fellow Muslims because the leader of the nation rightly helped distinguish between Islam and terrorism.
But the tone of the public discourse quickly changed. One might expect that a year later, with no new terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and after people’s fears in the wake of the attack have calmed, that U.S. views of Islam would have improved. But just the opposite happened. According to an ABCNews/Belief Net poll, between January and November of 2002 the public negative perception about Islam widened from 9 to 13 percentage points.
What happened? Again, leaders matter more than international events. Hatemongers and powerful policy makers within his own administration that wanted civilizational wars for a new century made the difference. Bush himself paved the path.
The well documented media campaign to drum up support for the Iraq war, the Axis of Evil speech, and a number of anti-Islam statements from prominent white Evangelical leaders plus policy makers tipped public opinion against Islam. These included Rev. Franklin Graham who gave the invocation at President Bush’s inauguration. He remarked (without irony), “Islam–unlike Christianity—has among its basic teachings an intolerance for those who follow other faiths.”
During the run-ups to the presidential election in 2008, again Islamophobia was on the rise.
Leaders matter. Mogahed believes that Islamophobia is the result of deliberate public manipulation, not organic cultural difference or a response to discrete acts of violence. “As such, those who perpetuate anti-Muslim prejudice undermine our democracy by manipulating and misinforming the American people. Muslim Americans are vital organs in the body of the nation and the disease of racism turns the body against its self, making it mistake vital organs for foreign agents. This disease doesn’t only hurt those organs, but it eventually kills the entire body if not abated."
As such, if our leaders are serious about putting a lid on hate crimes, they must condemn hate crimes, for surely, their words have consequences.
Pre-emption is a key aspect of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ approach to combating hate crimes, Leslee Fritz, the institution’s public affairs director, said. The department has partnerships with law enforcement agencies, religious organizations and advocacy groups to raise awareness about bias-motivated offenses and reduce them.
“A hate crime against one is a hate crime against all,” Fritz said.
I hope that the Republican politicians in the USA listen to Fritz and Mogahed’s advice to avoid an irreversible chain reaction that would only make things worse.
Appendix: List of Suspected Hate Crimes Directed at Actual or Perceived Muslim Institutions or Individuals since Paris Attacks
Paris, France Terror Attacks, November 13, 2015 1. 11/13 Mission Valley, CA Female assault - Simple Assault
- 11/15 Meriden, CT Mosque Attack, Shots Fired - Criminal Mischief, Threat
- 11/15 Orlando, FL Residence/Shots Fired - Criminal Mischief, Att. Assault, Threat
- 11/15 Norman, OK Phone Threat/Shots at Police - Threat; Assault w/deadly weapon
- 11/15 Charlotte, NC Attack on Uber driver - Aggravated Assault
- 11/16 Pflugerville, TX Mosque desecration - Threat, Criminal Mischief
- 11/16 Omaha, NE Mosque vandalism - Criminal Mischief
- 11/16 Cincinnati, OH Threat via vehicle Att. - Agg. Assault, Threat
- 11/17 St. Petersburg, FL Bomb/gun Phone Threat - Threat
- 11/17 Ft. Bend County, TX Mosque Threat - Threat
- 11/17 Dearborn, MI Twitter threat - Threat
- 11/18 San Antonio, TX Mosque Disruption - Criminal Trespass
- 11/19 Falls Church, VA Fake bomb, vandalism - Criminal Mischief, Threat
- 11/19 The Bronx, NY Assault on elementary student - Assault
- 11/20 San Diego, CA Assault on student wearing hijab - Assault
- 11/20 Corpus Christi Mosque Threat - Threat
- 11/20 Brooklyn, NY Spit on women/threat - Assault/Threat
- 11/26 Pittsburgh, PA Cab driver shot - Attempted Murder
- 12/1 Anaheim, CA Bullet riddled Quran at business - Threat
San Bernardino Terrorist Attack, December 2, 2015
- 12/3 Palm Beach, FL All windows smashed at Mosque - Criminal Mischief
- 12/5 Astoria, NY Store owner beaten - Assault, Threat
- 12/5 Washington, DC Muslim Cong. Carson death threat - Threat
- 12/6 Buena Park, CA Sikh Temple Vandalism - Crim. Mischief
- 12/7 West Phila., PA Pigs head - Crim. Mischief/Threat
- 12/7 Alameda Cnty., CA Hot coffee attack, slurs - Assault
- 12/7 New York, NY Restaurant worker slapped - Assault, Att. Crim. Mischief
- 12/8 Jersey City, NJ Threat letter - Threat
- 12/8 Grand Forks, ND Arson, Nazi spray paint - Arson, Criminal Mischief
- 12/9 Seattle, WA Ride share driver attacked - Assault
- 12/9 Brooklyn, NY Woman kicked, slurs - Assault
- 12/10 Washington, DC CAIR gets letter w/powder - Threat
- 12/10 Santa Clara, CA CAIR gets letter w/powder - Threat
- 12/10 Tampa, FL Rocks/shots at 2 Muslim drivers - Assault, Threat leaving religious service in hijab
- 12/11 Coachella, CA Mosque Firebomb - Arson
- 12/13 Hawthorne, CA Mosque fence spray painted/fake grenade - Criminal Mischief/Threat
- 12/13 Grand Rapids, MI Robbery/ Shooting - Robbery/ Aggravated Assault
- 12/13 Hawthorne Second mosque spray painted - Criminal Mischief
- 12/15 Chino Hills, CA Threat with knife - Att. Aggravated Assault
- 12/16 Salt Lake City, UT - Business vandalism Criminal Mischief
- 12/16 So. Salt Lake City, UT - Business vandalism/Swastikas Criminal Mischief
Criminal Incidents By Type* Threat 21 Assault 15 Criminal Mischief 11 Arson 2 *An incident can have more than one offense.