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ISSUE BRIEF

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Background

We understand today’s anti-Muslim bigotry to be partly rooted in anti-Arab bigotry, which classifies individuals based on their national origin and political views. What began as xenophobia directed at individuals of Arab origin morphed into anti-Islamic sentiment that targets an entire faith. Several longstanding factors have contributed to the current environment of bigotry which has contributed to a new wave of hate crimes targeted at Arab Americans, American Muslims and other minorities.

Anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry have long been a challenge to the diversity of American society, proliferating misinformation and stereotypes, fostering hostility and violence, and stigmatizing entire communities. Another factor is the well-funded hate industry that exists to peddle fear, misinformation, and hostility. A report from the Center for American Progress documented that over 40 million dollars flowed from seven foundations over a period of ten years which funded “misinformation experts” that reached millions of Americans through grassroots advocacy and media partners.[1] Bigotry and inflammatory rhetoric associated with the 2016 election cycle, and the subsequent election of President Donald Trump have exacerbated anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments that have manifested themselves in a surge of violence aimed at our community.

The FBI’s hate crime report for 2015, which was released November 2016, included, for the first time, 3 new categories including hate crimes targeted at Arabs. In total, there was a 6.8% increase in reported hate crimes from 2014 to 2015 due in part to the 67% surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes – a significant increase, and one that appears to correlate with the rise in inflammatory rhetoric in public discourse.  The highest percentage of hate crimes based on religion were the result of anti-Jewish bias.

With millions of people holding unfavorable views of Arab Americans and American Muslims, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry – and society’s tolerance of it - heighten the risk of hate crimes directed at our community. The continued securitized relationship between Arab Americans and our government not only fuels dangerous stereotypes but also risks Arab Americans being overlooked on key issues of importance to our community such as the economy, healthcare, and education.                           

The Problem

Since 9/11, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry have remained a consistent phenomenon, resulting in a dramatic increase in hate crimes against Arab Americans, American Muslims, and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim. The political conversation following the 9/11 attacks was initially careful to point out that a peaceful religion had been appropriated by a fringe group and used for violence. In particular, then-President George W. Bush went out of his way to work closely with American Muslims, even making a point to visit a mosque and repeatedly emphasize the United States was not at war with Islam. Since then, manufactured controversies, like Park51 (falsely termed the “Ground Zero Mosque”), became political wedge issues, with public officials pandering to irrational fears.

Several studies suggest hateful rhetoric during the 2016 Presidential Campaign season, as well as the election of President Donald Trump, have correlated with the highest levels of anti-Muslim hate crimes since the immediate aftermath of 9/11.[2] In addition to the rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims reported by the FBI in 2015,[3] the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported 437 instances of hateful intimidation and harassment from November 9-14, 2016. In February 2017, the SPLC released a report highlighting an increase in hate groups across the country, rising from 892 in 2015 to 917 in 2016. The biggest driver of hate groups comes from a 197% increase in anti-Muslim hate groups, from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.[4]

Arab American and immigrant communities have increasingly been subjected to hate crimes and bias-motivated acts in the housing context. Often, this behavior is exhibited through outright refusals to rent or sell homes to Arab Americans in certain areas and housing complex developments, as well as intimidation and assault by neighbors on their property, arson attempts, and firebombing of vehicles. Arab students have also been subject to hate activity and violence at their college dormitories and residence halls, including but not limited to vandalism of their property, rocks thrown through their windows, and swastikas and offensive epithets posted on their doors.

Perhaps most troubling, however, is that hate crime data is historically underreported – something the FBI acknowledges. FBI Director, James Comey argued “We need to do a better job of tracking and reporting hate crimes to fully understand what is happening in our communities and how to stop it.” 

One reason for such underreporting is that law enforcement agencies are not required to report hate crimes to the FBI. This includes more than 3,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the U.S. Additionally, victims of hate crimes often fail to report the incident to law enforcement for a variety of reasons. Many minorities who have a securitized relationship with law enforcement may be reluctant to report it out of fear or distrust. Others believe law enforcement is unable or unwilling to help them.[5] As a result, nearly two-thirds of hate crimes are unaccounted for.

As this trend continues, it is imperative that community members report to law enforcement when they are the target of a hate crime. Furthermore, the FBI must continue to coordinate with agencies nationwide to ensure forthcoming reports reflect the reality of the increasing number of Americans victimized by hate.

For more information on these issues, please refer to AAI’s Issue Brief on Countering Xenophobia. Similarly, programs that are encouraged by an atmosphere of fear are discussed in AAI’s issue briefs on Profiling, Surveillance, and Countering Violent Extremism. 

Key Recommendations

  • Congress should support the passage of the No Hate Act (S. 662 and H.R. 1566) introduced by Senator Blumenthal and Representative Beyer which provides incentives for local governments to report hate crimes, and provides for a private civil action.
  • Engage in a national public education campaign to end anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry, rhetoric, and myths, including those driving the hysteria about Sharia, and shed light on the true character of Arab Americans and American Muslims.
  • Support and work in partnership with all communities targeted by hate, including racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.
  • Hold candidates and public officials accountable for their rhetoric against all communities by having them sign AAI’s Commitment to Combat Bigotry to uphold civil discourse, not engage in bigotry, and speak out against those who do.
  • Prioritize work with federal, state and local officials to investigate housing related hate crimes, and increase enforcement of the National Fair Housing Act and HUD violations.