Hate crimes

American Muslims report “unusual surge” in visits from the FBI in 2016

A pig carcass dumped in front of an Islamic center in Oklahoma. A Muslim woman and her daughter called “ISIS” and spat on in Chicago as they walked to their vehicle. A 16-year-old in Ohio shot at and called a terrorist as he was on his way home from his part-time job.

Those are just a few of the anti-Muslim hate crimes and bias incidents that were reported last year, in a dramatic surge over the previous year, according to a new report from the Council on American Islamic Relations.

CAIR found that anti-Muslim bias incidents surged by 57 percent in 2016, from 1,409 the previous year to 2,213. Anti-Muslim hate crimes between 2014 and 2016 jumped by nearly 600 percent. The number of hate crimes recorded is consistent with FBI figures and with research collected by California State University.

Muslims’ homes were the most frequent target of anti-bias incidents, such as vandalism and threatening letters.

Wilfredo Ruiz, director of communications for CAIR-Florida, said the reason for the surge is likely twofold.

On the one hand, it’s possible that more people are reporting anti-bias incidents compared to previous years. “People are more open and willing to denounce it,” Ruiz said. He said that the presidential election season, during which Muslims were used as political pawns by candidates on both sides, and an uptick in anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the election of Donald Trump, has been a wake-up call for the community. He said it’s also led to an increased interest in civic engagement, wherein recognizing and reporting discrimination is part and parcel. “It took a Trump to make people realize how important it is to be civically engaged,” Ruiz said.

But on the other hand, Ruiz, who says he visits a different mosque every Friday, says that based upon his conversations with members of the community, that the increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents is real. The estimated size of the Muslim population in the U.S. is 3.3 million, according to Pew Research.

Inappropriate targeting or questioning by federal agents accounted for 24 percent of anti-Muslim bias incidents reported to CAIR in 2016, totaling 540 incidents in all (compared to 314 in 2015). About two-thirds of those reported incidents involved FBI agents. This was particularly clear in the week leading up to the November 8 election, amid a reported uptick in threats and election-related violence, when CAIR received “an unusual surge” in calls from Muslims saying they’d been visited by FBI agents asking whether they knew anyone who had ties with al-Qaida or other extremist groups, specifically in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“There’s no place that has been exempt from violence,” Ruiz said. “The Muslim community experiences violence in their homes, in schools, in shopping malls, in gas stations where they have been refused service, in the streets where they have been assaulted.”

“There is no place, no safe space,” Ruiz added. “Mosques? In six months, two mosques were burned in Florida.” More recently, two mosques in Texas were burned within the space of three weeks in early 2017.

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