It wasn’t much of a surprise, after more than a year of heated anti-Muslim rhetoric, that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 last Sunday brought out some of the worst in American bigotry. Apparent hate crimes linked to the event have been reported in North Carolina, New York, Texas and California, and reports are still coming in.
Hate crimes directed at Muslims and Arabs shot up by more than 1,600% immediately after Al Qaeda’s attacks on Sept. 1, 2001, killed nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Between three and eight persons were murdered — the number remains in dispute — in hate killings in the aftermath of the attacks, several of them Sikhs apparently mistaken for Muslims. But anti-Muslim hate crimes dropped by almost two-thirds in 2002, in large part because President Bush repeatedly emphasized that Muslims and Arabs were not the enemy. Anti-Muslim hate crimes continued to diminish, to about one-fifth the 2001 level, until 2009, the latest year for which national hate crimes statistics are available.
In the last year, however, especially since the controversy over an Islamic center in lower Manhattan near the site of the World Trade Center attacks, propaganda from activists and politicians has vilified Muslims. More than a dozen states have taken up proposals to pass laws against the imposition of Islamic Shariah law — laws that are completely unnecessary, given that the Constitution prohibits using foreign law, but that have had the effect of ginning up anger against Muslims.
Some of the recent hate attacks include:
- On Sept. 7, the Wednesday before Sunday’s anniversary, unknown arsonists set fire to a rural grocery store in Clay County, N.C., that reportedly was owned by a Sikh family. Left behind was spray-painted graffiti, “911 Go Home.” Authorities were investigating the arson attack as an apparent hate crime.
- On Sept. 10, last Saturday, a Muslim imam in the Bronx, N.Y., received a partially burned Koran at his mosque. The package also contained cartoons suggesting anti-Muslim hatred, according to reports. The incident was being investigated by the New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force.
- On the anniversary itself, a Muslim man went to a Houston bar called Petrol Station and ordered a hamburger to go, he said. When he was given the to-go box, said Tarek Ghalayani, “Happy September 11th” was written on it, with the 11 formed by a drawing of the World Trade Center towers. Ghalayani said he and a friend were called “assholes” by a bartender, who was reportedly later fired.
- On Wednesday, Sept. 14, arsonists hit a dry cleaning business in Orangevale, Calif., leaving behind a scrawled swastika and the words “fuck Arab.” The owners were Arab Christians and suffered some $60,000 in damage to their business. The FBI was investigating the attack as a hate crime.
- Also in California, police in Elk Grove still have made no arrests in the double murder of two elderly Sikh men in March. The men were shot while walking down the street. Both men were wearing traditional Sikh turbans, which have caused some Americans to mistake Sikhs for Muslims.
At the same time, reports continue to emerge about the use of anti-Muslim propaganda in the training of FBI counterterrorism agents. Wired magazine reported Wednesday that it had received a trove of instructional materials from an FBI whistleblower that said, among other things, that mainstream Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that Mohammed was a “cult leader”; that the more “devout” a Muslim is, the more likely he is to be “violent.
Mike German, a former FBI agent who now works for the ACLU and who once infiltrated American radical-right groups, told Wired: “Seeing the materials the FBI agents are being trained with certainly helps explain why we’ve seen so many inappropriate FBI surveillance operations broadly targeting the Muslim-American community… . Biased police training can only result in biased policing.”