Arabs and others who appeared to be Muslim were threatened, beaten and generally discriminated against more last year than at any other time in the past, according to the FBI's annual survey of hate crimes released yesterday.
Largely in the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI counted 481 attacks against people of Middle Eastern descent, Muslims and South Asian Sikhs, who are often mistaken as Muslim. That number was up from 28 in 2000, an increase of more than 1,500 percent.
Directors of Arab and Asian groups said the report validated surveys they had taken after the attacks, including a report titled "Backlash: When America Turned on its Own," by the Washington-based Asian-Pacific American Legal Consortium.
"This absolutely validates what we were saying," said Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "This data corresponds to our data, to Human Rights Watch, to all the available data."
The committee found more than 700 hate crimes but said it used different means to define and verify such crimes.
The FBI's annual report defines hate crimes as acts motivated by prejudice, racial and otherwise. Hate crimes against African Americans held steady from the preceding year at 2,900. Crimes against Jews totaled 1,043, down slightly. Gay people were the victims in 1,393 incidents, and white people, 891, according to the FBI.
One of the attacks recorded against Arabs and Asians was a phone call from Boston to James Zogby, director of the Arab American Institute in Washington. The caller called Zogby a "towel head" and threatened to kill members of his family.
Zogby said the threats against Arab Americans after Sept. 11 were similar to what befell Arabs immediately after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
"The difference this time is that the president intervened quickly," Zogby said, "and the entertainment community provided public service ads that brought it down to a trickle. People were prosecuted, and there were investigations."
Zogby said he watched his attacker receive a two-month jail sentence. He supported the FBI report's findings that serious crimes have tapered off into what he called job and housing discrimination.
Ibish agreed with Zogby that considering the devastation of Sept. 11, the problem could have been worse.
"This doesn't mean the people of this country acted badly," Ibish said. "It means there's a particular problem facing an exposed and vulnerable community that comes from people who didn't know how to control their emotions."