By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
A national Muslim advocacy organization yesterday blamed a "negative and politically charged" environment on the Internet and talk radio for the 30 percent jump in anti-Muslim incidents reported to the group last year.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations received 1,972 complaints of harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment in 2005, up from 1,522 in 2004, according to an annual report released yesterday.
The number of complaints is the highest since CAIR began the report after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The group said it received 2,300 complaints but deemed some of them illegitimate.
"We're seeing a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric fed by the Internet and also on talk radio," CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said at a news conference. "You can't turn on the radio without hearing negative, bigoted comments about Islam."
Seventy-nine percent of the complaints came from nine states -- including Virginia and Maryland -- and Washington. Those are also the places with the largest Muslim populations, CAIR said. The organization registered 144 complaints last year in Virginia, a 32 percent jump from the previous year. Maryland's total was 85 in 2005, five more than in 2004. There were 93 complaints in the District last year. The group didn't report the 2004 D.C. number because the city did not make the top 10 that year.
Mark Potok, a staff director with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based organization that tracks hate groups, said hate crime statistics are notoriously murky because they are self-reported. However, Potok said CAIR's accounting of anti-Muslim crimes seems "to be the best kind of work out there."
Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, said he believes the driving force behind the incidents is ignorance about Islam. A survey the group did in November, he said, showed that 10 percent of Americans said they believe Muslims worship a moon god.
"This signifies the amount of work that lies on the shoulders of Muslims" to educate people about their faith, Awad said.
In an effort to combat ignorance about the faith, CAIR began offering free copies of the Koran and copies of a PBS documentary about the prophet Muhammad this year after the Danish cartoon controversy. The group said yesterday that 30,000 copies of the Koran and 14,500 copies of the documentary have been requested.
The largest portion of complaints, more than 17 percent, fall into the "due process" category, said Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR legal director. They include complaints such as racial profiling and overzealous arrest or interrogation practices. Second, at 15 percent, are denial of religious accommodation accusations, and 14 percent concerned employment discrimination, according to the report. It did not break down the complaints by location.
CAIR officials pushed at the conference for law enforcement authorities to investigate complaints thoroughly. Federal officials "do a very good job" of investigating whether crimes such as arson or assault have a religious bias, but "you get more resistance at the local level," Hooper said.
However, the group said some post-Sept. 11 policy initiatives -- including the "infamous" Patriot Act, as the group described the law on its Web site -- have unfairly focused on Muslims. "Muslims take the brunt of it," Hooper said.
The full report can be viewed athttp://www.cair.com/pdf/2006-CAIR-Civil-Rights-Report.pdf.