Posted by Guest on March 23, 2017 in Blog

By Raneem Alkhatib

The growing hate, violence and prejudice against members of the South Asian, Arab American, and Muslim communities inspired South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) to hold a congressional briefing on the recent trend of hate against these communities. Congressional sponsors included: Representatives Keith Ellison, Andre Carson, Raul Grijalva, Ami Bera, Grace Meng, Mark Takano, Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Ro Khanna. 

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “2016 was an unprecedented year for hate.” The FBI’s latest data shows a significant rise (a surge of 67% in 2015) in anti-Muslim hate crimes. There is also serious under reporting when it comes to hate crimes. This rise in hateful violence is, however, met with unity and solidarity from many communities as evidenced by the SAALT panel discussion.

“I am an immigrant who has made it to the halls of Congress and I’ve been told to go back to my country as many of the hate crime victims were told,” said Rep. Takano (CA-41). He went on to remind those assembled that we all come from immigrants, one way or another, “Unless you are a Native American, you came here on a slave ship or looking for a better life. America is built on the labor and love and the light of immigrants.”

“Our fight is long, it always has been. We’ve always strived to be a better union” Takano said. “We have to fight for the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, for all the people who are facing discrimination. For the LGBTQ. For all people who wonder if this country has a place for them - it does.” 

“We can’t allow ourselves to be numb to the outrageous things happening around us,” said Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CPAC), who spoke of the impacts of policies like the Muslim Ban. She told the story of an Iranian woman who was not permitted to return to her home in the U.S after the ban. She was stranded until the ban was lifted. Chu stressed the real-life implications rhetoric and polices have.

Rep. Grijalva (AZ-3), co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, encouraged everyone to stay united. “We cannot allow racial identify to be a dividing issue in this country. We cannot allow religion to be a dividing issue in this country. We cannot allow them to be political tools and scapegoats in the political process in this country.”

After opening remarks, panelists from The Sikh Coalition, Washington Peace Center/D.C. Justice for Muslims Coalition, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Arab American Institute reaffirmed the importance of the role of immigrants in the United States. 

One attendee asked the panel about the possibility of Kansas passing a hate crime law after the murder of an Indian man who was perceived to be Middle Eastern. He argued the state’s governor was more willing to pass such a law now.  Rajdeep Singh, from the Sikh Coalition, said, “It looks very promising, but would it include LGBTQ?” Singh says the challenge in passing these laws is the reluctance by some lawmakers to acknowledge LGBTQ hate crimes. Nadia Aziz, from AAI, agreed and said that communities need to work together to push passage of inclusive hate crime laws in the five states that do not currently have legislation.

Rep. Khanna (CA-17) ended on a hopeful note, “I have full confidence that our country will stand together, on a bipartisan basis, against hateful words and actions, and we must prosecute any hate crimes to the full extent of the law”.

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Raneem Alkhatib is a Spring 2017 Intern at the Arab American Institute.