Posted by on November 09, 2012 in Blog

Today the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) convened a briefing on Federal Civil Rights Engagement with the Arab and Muslim American Communities Post 9/11. The commission hosted three panels to address “the success and failure of the federal government in engaging the Arab and Muslim American community post 9/11.”

Since 2001, hate crimes targeting the Arab, Muslim, and Sikh have been a constant problem. Increased anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics and public discourse have perpetuated the broader anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Sikh sentiments which have led to violence targeting those communities. In addition, recent reports have revealed that law enforcement agencies at the local and federal levels have been spying on members of the Arab American and American Muslim communities without criminal predicate. They have also implemented training programs to officers and agents which contain gross mischaracterizations of Arab and Muslim communities and further damaged the essential relationship between the community and the agencies responsible for keeping America safe. 

It is in that context that AAI President Jim Zogby and other participating panelists voiced their concerns and submitted testimony about the current status =between their respective communities and government agencies. Zogby said that relationships between law enforcement and the Arab American community has to get better, but stressed that most federal law enforcement agencies have a long way to go in order to restore community confidence. Pointing to the intrusive and vast spying program the New York City Police Department has undertaken in recent years, Zogby said that the NYPD is “functioning as a law unto itself, with CIA cooperation and government acquiescence.” He also stressed the detrimental effect of the FBI’s training program which was revealed to contain grossly bigoted misinformation about Arabs and Muslims. Despite overwhelming criticism from the panelists, Zogby did assert that some federal offices, especially the Civil Right Office at the Department of Justice, were doing great work and supporting members of the community who were victims of hate crimes.

But Zogby and the other panelists stressed the importance of government agencies engaging groups outside the realm of law enforcement as well, saying that citizens shouldn’t be deterred from reporting hate crimes for fear of law enforcement. He also emphasized the need for the classification of hate crimes targeting Arab Americans , for reporting purposes. “What's at stake is ultimately the civil rights of all Americans," Zogby said. 

In his submitted testimony to the USCCR, Zogby cautioned that failure to address the problems currently facing the Arab American community would have long term negative effects.

“The negative practices I have noted here threaten to undercut this good will and break trust between my community and law enforcement agencies. These behaviors create fear in my community and create suspicion about us in the broader society. This, in turn, leads to alienation and has the potential to radicalize some. It also leads to an atmosphere where hate and suspicion can grow – further marginalizing some in my community, while making others more vulnerable to hate crimes.”

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