WASHINGTON – Although a backlash of hate crimes last year against Muslims and people who appear Middle Eastern seems to have waned, Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad says people of the Islamic faith remain worried about the future.
"There are a lot of accusations against Muslims and suspicions against Muslims being perpetrated," said Ahmad, president of the Bethesda, Md.-based Minaret of Freedom, a think tank espousing free market philosophies. "There are many people who are behaving more cautiously."
The FBI reported Monday that hate crimes against Muslims and people who appear to be of Middle East ethnicity surged in 2001, "presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11" of that year.
The report found that incidents targeting people, institutions and businesses identified with the Islamic faith increased from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001. Muslims previously had been among the least-targeted religious groups. The report did not say how many occurred after Sept. 11.
Hate crimes against people because of their ethnicity or national origin — those not Hispanic, not black and not Asian or American Indian — more than quadrupled from 354 in 2000 to 1,501 in 2001. This category includes people of Middle Eastern origin or descent.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on Islamic-American Relations, said the FBI figures probably represent only a small portion of the true number of hate crimes, because many of the estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States do not report such incidents to authorities.
"A lot of us feel that our patriotism is always suspect," Hooper said.
Since Sept. 11 of last year, the Justice Department has prosecuted 11 civil rights cases under its "Backlash Discrimination Initiative" and investigated another 403, with 70 others prosecuted by state and local authorities. A man was sentenced to 51 months in prison for attempting to set fire to a Pakistani-American restaurant in Salt Lake City; another got two months in prison and a $5,000 fine for leaving a threatening voice mail message on Sept. 12, 2001, for James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute in Washington.
The Justice Department has also held 250 community forums around the country in an effort to ease tensions that led to violence against Muslims as well as Middle Easterners and Sikhs and other people of South Asian ethnicity.
Hate crimes, defined as crimes motivated by prejudice, are somewhat subjective, because many times they result from witness and victim accounts given to police rather than convictions in court. Overall allegations of crime motivated by hate rose just over 20 percent from 2000 to 2001, from 8,063 to 9,730 incidents — still only a fraction of the 11.8 million serious crimes reported to the FBI last year.
Part of the increase stems from a higher number of law enforcement agencies that supplied the data to the FBI in 2001.
Muslims remain behind blacks, Jews and homosexuals in the numbers of reported hate crimes.
There were 2,899 incidents against blacks in 2001, about the same as the year before, and just over 1,000 against Jews, down slightly from the year before. Almost 1,400 incidents involved crimes against homosexuals, and whites were targeted in 891 cases, the FBI said.
Just over 12,000 victims of all hate crimes were reported in 2001, with 46 percent of them targeted because of their race. The total in 2000 was about 9,900 hate crime victims.
There were 10 murders, four rapes, 2,736 assaults and 3,563 cases of intimidation motivated by hate in 2001. There were more than 3,600 property crimes, all but a few involving vandalism or property destruction.
Whites comprised the vast majority of known offenders for all cases, at 6,054, followed by blacks at 1,882. The FBI does not compile information on how many offenders were arrested and prosecuted; a "known offender" means only that the alleged offender's race is known, officials said.
Most incidents against Muslims and people who are or were believed to have been of Middle Eastern ethnicity involved assaults and intimidation, but three cases of murder or manslaughter and 35 cases of arson were reported.
President Bush and others in the administration repeatedly have said Islam is a peaceful religion and that the huge majorities of Arabs or other Middle Eastern ethnic groups in the United States are upstanding citizens. Some conservative Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, have characterized Muslims and Islam as violently anti-Semitic.