Fighting terrorism and Islamophobia at the grassroots level
The FBI on Monday released its annual tally of hate crimes, with numbers that confirmed the fears of Muslim advocacy groups: a 67 percent jump in offenses against Muslims in 2015.
Long before the FBI released its findings, American Muslims had sounded the alarm on a rise in attacks they categorized as “Islamophobic,” targeting Muslims specifically because of their faith. A resurgence of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, most notably in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, correlated with a flurry of reports of assailants ripping off headscarves, spray-painting slurs on mosques, and harassing or even beating Muslims in the street.
“We saw this coming, and we’ve always thought that it was worse than has been reported,” said Paul Galloway, executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council, a statewide advocacy group in Tennessee.
The anti-Muslim offenses were part of a nearly 7 percent increase overall in hate crime incidents, according to the FBI’s statistics, which many activists consider underreported because not all jurisdictions record bias-related offenses and there’s a relatively high bar of proof for getting such a classification. The FBI recorded 5,818 incidents in 2015 – 59 percent were related to race or ethnicity, 20 percent were related to religious bias and nearly 18 percent were related to sexual orientation.
The FBI’s breakdown of offenses showed two main types – intimidation and simple assault, each around 40 percent – though there were also several more violent crimes, including 18 murders and 13 rapes. Of the more than 5,000 offenders, the FBI says, 48 percent were white, 24 percent were black and 16 percent were of unknown racial background. The report listed 122 victims who were attacked because of gender identification bias, including at least 76 transgender victims.
This was the 25th anniversary of the bureau’s Uniform Crime Report, an annual compilation of hate crimes as reported by law enforcement agencies from across the nation. While researchers view it as a useful tool in tracking the patterns of hate-motivated crimes, it’s by no means perfect – this year, for example, the number of participating agencies dropped by nearly 500 and, of those, most reported zero hate crimes, noted Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
Levin took note of the uptick in anti-Muslim incidents, which he attributed to a period of “heightened anti-Islamic prejudice, increased Salafist Jihadist terror attacks and political vitriol.” In 2014, the FBI recorded 154 crimes; there were 257 in 2015.
Galloway, of the Muslim council in Tennessee, said his optimistic side hopes that the higher figures stem from more victims deciding to come forward and better law enforcement training on handling such cases. Still, he said, it’s hard not to succumb to fear when there’s been an undeniable increase in threats against Muslims.
In a half-hour interview, Galloway mentioned several incidents he knew of personally: His wife, who wears a headscarf, has been yelled at to “Go home!” A colleague believes her scarf was the reason the driver of a huge pickup tried to run her off the road last week in Knoxville, Tenn. A student he knows in Nashville said a teacher told Muslim and Latino students to get their passports ready now that Trump will be president.
The incoming Trump administration has already announced a top White House job for former Breitbart news executive Steve Bannon, who is known for publishing the bigoted and racist views of the so-called “alt-right” white nationalist movement. Muslims worry that the new administration’s openly hostile statements about Muslims and other minorities will lead to an even higher number of hate crimes next year.
“They feel like the election of Donald Trump, in many ways and by many people, is seen as an affirmation that their lives aren’t as valued or welcomed,” Galloway said.
While the number of anti-Muslim attacks is rapidly increasing, Jews still remain the most targeted religious group in the FBI report, with anti-Jewish crimes accounting for 52 percent of offenses motivated by religious bias. As for the statistics on racially motivated attacks: 1,745 were anti-black, 613 were anti-white and 299 were anti-Hispanic.