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Group Urges Steps to Prevent Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes

Report says government officials should have been better prepared for the violence against Arab Americans that occurred after Sept. 11.

November 14, 2002|Arianne Aryanpur | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A human rights group commended the swift state and federal response to increased hate crimes against Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks but said government should have anticipated the wave of violence and taken steps to head it off.

In a 41-page report, New York-based Human Rights Watch asserted that as long as conflict in the Middle East continues and further terrorism in the United States remains likely, government officials must expect more hate crimes against the Muslim community and focus on preventing it.

The report, to be released today and drawing on FBI data, documented a 17-fold increase in hate crimes against Muslims in six cities with large Arab populations or large numbers of hate crimes -- Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Phoenix, New York and Dearborn, Mich. These figures compare all of 2001 with all of the previous year, with the bulk of the incidents in 2001 occurring after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The FBI said Los Angeles County reported that anti-Arab hate crimes shot up from 12 in 2000 to 188 in 2001, slightly below the six-city average.

"In many cases, government officials responded quickly and vigorously to the backlash violence," the Human Rights Watch report said. "President Bush and numerous state and city officials publicly condemned anti-Arab hate crimes."

But the report also found fault. "Government officials didn't sit on their hands while Muslims and Arabs were attacked after Sept. 11, but law enforcement and other government agencies should have been better prepared for this kind of onslaught," said Amardeep Singh, U.S. programs researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Singh said "backlash" hate crimes against American Muslims were predictable given the increased violence against Muslims after the Persian Gulf War and the Oklahoma City bombing.

While officials ultimately linked the Oklahoma bombing to an American terrorist, many Americans first assumed that Arab terrorists were behind the attack. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, recorded more than 200 incidents of Muslim harassment or assault in the days after the attack.

"Since Sept. 11, a pall of suspicion has been cast over Arabs and Muslims in the United States," Singh said. "Public officials can reduce bias violence against them by ensuring that the 'war against terrorism' is focused on criminal behavior rather than whole communities."

The report recommended enhancing programs already in effect in at least some of the six cities. It praised the local and state governments that held news conferences, established community outreach programs and deployed police at Muslim gathering places to prevent crimes. The Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission notified police of potential "hot spots" such as mosques and Arab-owned convenience stores, according to the report.

"I think these are very legitimate areas of concern," said Council on American-Islamic Relations spokeswoman Hodan Hassan. She underscored the need for establishing better relations between law enforcement and American Muslims.

"We can start by sensitizing law enforcement officials to the needs of the Muslim community through diversity training that will teach them what is Islam, what do these people believe in, what are their customs," she said.

Hassan pointed to a recent case in which law enforcement officials worked with community members in Florida to thwart a potential bomber. "This sort of relationship, building between law enforcement and the Muslim community, is where you start," Hassan said.

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