By Robin Wallace
American Muslim leaders are asking the Trump administration to “walk back” what they are calling anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies after the release of a new report finding a sharp spike in bias incidents and hate crimes targeting Muslims in the past year.
The report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations documented a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents and a 44 percent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes from 2015 to 2016. The same report found that between 2014 and 2016, anti-Muslim bias incidents rose 65 percent, while anti-Muslim hate crimes mushroomed 584 percent.
Announcing the findings from their headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, CAIR leaders acknowledged that other minority groups, including Jews, Latinos, Sikhs and African Americans, have also been the targets of increased bias attacks. CAIR representatives said the uptick in these types of attacks can be blamed on the anti-minority campaign rhetoric of President Trump and the policies of his new administration.
“It is time for the Trump administration to seriously address the growing anti-minority sentiment in our nation, prompted at least in part by his toxic campaign rhetoric, the appointment of Islamophobes to policy-making posts and the introduction of Islamophobic policies such as the ‘Muslim ban,'” said Corey Saylor, director of CAIR’s Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia.
The report tracks incidents that are reported to CAIR through its regional and state offices. CAIR defines bias incidents as those that involve an expression of anti-Muslim sentiment but do not rise to the level of a crime. Hate crimes are those acts, such as physical violence motivated by religious prejudice, that constitute a criminal act and would meet the standard of federal hate crime statutes.
Harassment was the No. 1 form of bias incident, accounting for 18 percent of cases processed by CAIR. The second highest number of reports involved the “inappropriate questioning” of Muslims by the FBI — the targeting of random individuals for questioning, Saylor said, that did not appear to be linked to any specific investigation.
The CAIR report documents a “sweep” of FBI agents, acting reportedly on a vague threat of al-Qaida activity, through the Muslim community on the weekend prior to the 2017 presidential election.
“We did not see any similar type of outreach to Trump supporters who were documented as making threats of a violent nature,” Saylor said. He said the lack of similar outreach to other communities indicates that Islam and Muslims are perceived by the government as more of a threat than any other community — even when other groups, such as some Trump supporters, were making blatant threats.
The third most common form of bias incident was workplace-related, such as reports of Muslims being fired, passed over for promotion or not being hired due to religious bias.
Hate crimes, which in previous years did not make the top five, were the fourth most common type of bias incident in 2016 — indicating a disturbing trend toward increased violence. For example, Saylor said, opposition to mosques has shifted from protests against traffic, parking and construction to acts of vandalism and arson.
“The rise in incidents where we see more violence has been very clear over the past two years,” Saylor said.
CAIR also documented 209 incidents of anti-Muslim bias against students, including incidents when teachers expressed anti-Muslim attitudes toward their students.
The report found that the most common trigger for anti-Muslim incidents is the ethnicity of the victim, and though CAIR’s intake staff does not track the gender of complainants, the number of incidents triggered by the victim wearing a head scarf highlighted a disturbing trend.
“We can tell by the number of head scarf cases that the visible element is a trigger and that the people behind these incidents have no problem targeting women as their victims,” said Saylor.
Another major concern of Muslim leaders, documented in the report, is the pervasive anti-Muslim statements, rhetoric, myths and falsehoods put forth by political candidates and elected officials. CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said American politicians know that propagating anti-Muslim sentiment is an effective strategy for getting votes, but that the rhetoric of the 2016 campaign actually galvanized minority and civil rights groups to stand together to take action.
“The Trump administration also takes a lot of blame to what’s happening to the Muslim community and other minorities. Trump has promised and delivered on his promise to ban Muslims,” said Awad. “Where he failed, again, the courts have pushed back, the public has pushed back and the media has pushed back, and also, national civil rights organizations, like CAIR and the ACLU, have filed lawsuits, and so far, they have been winning the battle.”
CAIR, the largest civil rights organization representing Muslims in the United States, has launched a $5 million campaign to offer free civil rights workshops to Muslims at centers across the country and expand CAIR’s legal capacity by forming strategic alliances with other organizations to file lawsuits.
“One of the most important things that needs to happen is the Trump administration needs to walk back the toxic rhetoric it was using on campaign trail, needs to reassess things like bringing people who have expressed clear anti-Muslim animus and giving them jobs at the White House, then attempting to implement their anti-Muslim rhetoric from the campaign trail into policy through such things as the Muslim ban — that all needs to walk back,” Saylor said. “Our government needs to take significant steps to talk about unifying America so that the government can be part of the solution of the targeting of all these different minorities, not just Muslim Americans.”