Anti-Muslim bigotry is once again on the march, thanks in large part to hate groups like Stop Islamization of America, which helped gin up nationwide hysteria last year over a planned Islamic cultural center near the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Manhattan.
Since the controversy over the "ground zero mosque" erupted last May, we've seen a steady drumbeat of news accounts of hate crimes and bias incidents aimed at Muslims – too many to ignore. And U.S. Rep. Peter King's Islamophobic hearings almost three weeks ago on the radicalization of Muslims in America didn't help matters.
So the hearings that began today in the Senate, conducted by Sen. Dick Durbin, are a welcome development. Durbin, chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, announced last week that he would hold hearings "in response to the spike in anti-Muslim bigotry in the last year including Quran burnings, restrictions on mosque construction, hate crimes, hate speech and other forms of discrimination."
SPLC President Richard Cohen today submitted testimony at Durbin's invitation.
Although FBI hate crime statistics for 2010 won't be released until next fall, it appears from our monitoring of news reports that those statistics will almost certainly show a spike in hate crimes against Muslims, the second such spike since 9/11.
We've compiled a list of 156 hate crimes and bias incidents since 9/11. About a third of those occurred within a year of the attacks of 2001. But they quickly declined and leveled off after President George W. Bush delivered a series of speeches in which he assured Americans that Muslims were not our enemies.
Now, these incidents are rising again. About one-fifth of the 156 incidents we recorded have occurred since May 2010.
That's only one indicator of the toxic atmosphere. Another is the appearance in numerous state legislatures of bills to ban the use of Islamic Shariah law in our courts. This is, of course, nothing but a political stunt designed to pander to the growing anti-Muslim sentiment. There is absolutely no danger of Shariah law invading our courts.
Another indicator: Educators are reporting the harassment of Muslim students and attempts to limit the way Islamic history and culture are taught. In Staten Island, N.Y., for example, four high school students were charged with a hate crime in October after spending more than a year bullying a Muslim classmate, occasionally beating him and calling him a terrorist. The conservative American Textbook Council has complained that textbooks don't highlight "Islamic challenges to global security," and last September, the Texas Board of Education approved a resolution to require that the state's textbooks pass the group's litmus test and not cast Islam in a favorable light.
The point is, as we have seen repeatedly in recent years, words matter. It's time, as Cohen wrote in his testimony, for our political leaders to speak out forcefully and unambiguously about this growing threat to Muslim-Americans.