Anti-Muslim hate crimes continue to rise

As political rhetoric from the right becomes more and more openly anti-Muslim, violent crimes against Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim, have increased in kind. With the federal government enacting policies that have been accused of blatantly targeting Muslims, many within the community feel especially exposed, and question whether law enforcement is doing everything it can to protect them.

In 2015, the FBI reported a 60 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes, with the reported 257 incidents being the highest since 2001, in which 481 hate crimes were reported. Similarly, Southern Poverty Law Center reported that in 2016, anti-Muslim hate groups increased from numbering only 34 to 101, claiming that “the increase in anti-Muslim hate was fueled by Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, including his campaign pledge to bar Muslims from entering the United States, as well as anger over terrorist attacks such as the June massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.”

This claim by SPLC does not come without evidence. Within the first month after Trump’s election, the organization recorded 1094 bias-related incidents. While it may be difficult to establish a causal relationship between the statements and actions of the president and the increase in hate crimes, it is clear that hate groups feel emboldened by the current climate. Since the election, the country has seen attacks against mosques, including an incident of arson in Texas in January, and assaults against Muslim individuals.

As alarming as these numbers may be, there are many who wonder if the real numbers aren’t much higher. The reason for this doubt is the very structure of hate crime reporting. Figures are collected by the FBI on a voluntary basis, thus areas in which anti-Muslim hate is more prevalent might then be less willing to prosecute and report crimes against Muslims as hate crimes. Ibrahim Hooper, speaking for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Al Jazeera in November, “I think these statistics are just a fraction of what we see on the ground right now.”

Many victims of these incidents have thus used social media to increase awareness of the growing hatred directed towards Muslims. Numerous videos have been shared across platforms such as Facebook and Twitter depicting young Muslims encountering aggressive hatred in public places such as restaurants and on public transportation.

Another factor that may skew the reporting of anti-Muslim hate crimes is that some of the victims are not actually Muslim, so these crimes are instead classified under the statistics for their actual, rather than perceived, identity. One group that regularly finds themselves mistakenly attacked for being Muslim is the Sikh community. The reason for these attacks is usually the appearance of Sikh men, including their skin color and grooming, as well as the mistaken belief that the turban, worn by observant Sikh men, is a sign of Islam.

Another group facing anti-Muslim hate are non-Muslim Arabs, with attackers conflating the Arab and Muslim identities, despite Arabs making up only around 20 percent of the world’s Muslim population. These facts indicate that even though Islam is a religion, anti-Muslim hate crimes carry with them a strong racial and ethnic component.

While some may argue that blame cannot be laid at the feet of the president, it cannot be disputed that Trump has done little to combat this tide of hate. After an attack on a Quebec mosque in January left six dead, President Trump was broadly criticized for his uncharacteristic silence on social media. Though he did contact Prime Minister Trudeau privately, Trump failed to address the tragedy in a public manner, despite having publicly commented on a number of other attacks.

The lack of confidence in the federal government felt by the Muslim community was exacerbated when Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met with community leaders in Detroit in March. Multiple outlets reported the tension in the meeting, with Kelly growing increasingly angry, to the point of standing up and threatening to leave. Some who attended the meeting expressed concerns that Kelly was not open to listening to their feedback, and disagreed with his assertion that Muslims were not being targeted by government officials.

The increasing number of attacks, paired with questions about both the comprehensiveness of federal reports and the commitment of government officials to protecting Muslims, has placed American Muslims in a vulnerable position. Unfortunately, the statistics, lacking or not, seem to indicate that this is a problem that will only continue to grow worse.

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