This report chronicles the work of organizations like CAIR, the Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, ADL, and others who have documented a rise in hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, and other communities in the years after 9/11. Some communities have struggled more and more each year, as in the case of the Muslim and Sikh communities, while others have risen and fell throughout, as with the Hindu and Jewish communities. Despite these variances, however, it is clear that the election of Barack Obama, increasing anti-immigrant sentiment, the rise of white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, and a lack of national knowledge about the similarities and differences between religious and ethnic communities play a large role in the spike of religiously motivated hate crimes over the last twelve years.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is an American Muslim civil rights organization. Their comprehensive reports on anti-Muslim incidents are the most thorough of their kind. According to CAIR’s 2005 and 2010 reports “Unequal Protection: The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States” and “Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and Its Impact in the United States,” the term “Islamophobia” refers to the “close-minded prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims” and has been clearly visible in the United States since 9/11.
For example, in 2003, anti-Muslim rants were shouted towards student Christine Lo’s dorm room at Yale. Lo had hung an upside-down American flag outside of her window to protest the war in Iraq. The ranting students also attempted to pry open her door with a plank of wood. After they left, Lo found a note prompting Americans to kill Muslims and ”launch so many missiles their mothers don’t produce healthy offspring.” Yale administrator Raphael Soifer also became the target of discrimination when a Yale student spit at him in a dining hall and exclaimed ”I hope you and your families die! Why don’t you go live in Iraq.”
Similar threats have been found at institutions such as San Jose State University (California) in 2003, where graffiti in the bathroom claimed, ”Muslims will be shot on SJSU campus on March 10!” At the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, moreover, Muslim prayer rugs were discovered soaked in pig’s blood.
On December 30, 2004, also in California, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was pushing her baby in a stroller when a man in a truck almost ran them over near a gas station. When the woman cried, “You almost killed my baby!,” the man responded, “It wouldn’t have been a big loss.”
In June 2004, a Muslim family’s house was raided by the IRS and armed FBI agents who drew their guns. The family was told that an IRS investigation was being conducted and the agents proceeded to ask them questions such as “Are you Shiite or Sunni?” and questions about “Hamas, Hezbollah, and suicide bombings.” They were also asked “If the US went to war with Iran, which side would you be on?” The agents took with them all items in the house containing non-English writing, including the daughter’s diary.
Finally, in June 2005, a Baltimore mosque was vandalized and the incident is suspected to be bias-related. Red paint was splashed on the mosque’s sign, walls and fence. As Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King noted in his July 2, 2005 article entitled “Let’s Proudly Hail the Rights of All,” anti-Muslim sentiments are as prevalent as ever, even comparable to sentiments held by many of Japanese Americans during World War II. In June 2005 alone, King notes, a man was sentenced for firebombing an El Paso mosque, a Qur’an was desecrated with human waste in Nashville, a mosque was burned in California, a bag of burned Qur’ans was left outside an Islamic center in Virginia, and an Islamic school in Miami was vandalized for the third time. Political freedom, he argues, is not extended to Muslim Americans.
Following the inauguration of President Barack Obama in January 2009, CAIR has documented an even higher spike in Islamophobic sentiment and hate crimes in the United States. For example, in February 2009 the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay dealt with harassment via signs, bullhorns, and protests during prayer services. In March 2009, Muslim candidates for office in Bell City, California were defeated after right-wing groups circulated ads superimposing their faces onto images of the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Meanwhile, in August 2010, a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was blockaded by anti-Muslim sentiment in the neighborhood and on municipal planning boards. In September 2010, Florida pastor Terry Jones hosted “Burn a Koran Day.” Around the same time, American media coverage of American Muslims were overwhelmingly negative, particularly surrounding the proposed Park 51 mosque (publicly branded “the Ground Zero Mosque”).
According to CAIR’s last available numbers in 2010, the American public’s approval of Islam dropped from 40 percent in 2001 to 30 percent in 2010, with over 45 percent of Americans believing that Islam is contrary to traditional American values. Since then, Islamophobic acts of hate speech and action has only worsened in the United States. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “The number of anti-Muslim groups tripled in 2011, jumping from 10 groups in 2010 to 30” in 2011. In 2012, shots were fired at mosques, an acid bomb was thrown at a children’s school, mosques were vandalized with paintballs and pigs’ legs, and a Florida Muslim family’s house was firebombed. TSA body scans and pat-downs have increased for Muslims, specifically targeting women for harassment in airport and transit settings.
In January 2011, a twelve-year-old Smithsburg Middle School basketball player was benched for wearing the hijab. In August 2012, the Islamic Society of Joplin in Joplin, Missouri was decimated by arson twice in one summer. In October 2012, Saint Anthony, Minnesota came under investigation by the federal government for rejecting plans to build an Islamic center in the neighborhood. In December 2012, an Ohio truck driver plead guilty to setting a mosque on fire after learning about Islam via talk radio and Fox News.
The same month, a New York woman murdered Sunando Sen, who was Hindu, by pushing him into the path of an oncoming subway train; she killed Sen because she believed he was Muslim. “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims,” she said. “Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers, I’ve been beating them up.”
In May 2013, Oklahoma became the sixth state to approve anti-Shariah measures in their legislation regarding state courts. According to the Religion News Service, 51 similar bills have been advocated in 23 states since 2011. Also in May 2013, Dearborn, Michigan’s Muslim community canceled Dearborn’s world-famous Arab International Festival over concerns about violent retaliation. Although it has been nearly twelve years since the attacks of 9/11, the American Muslim community continues to face significant hate, vandalism, violence, and rejection by the mainstream American community.
In 2003, the Sikh Coalition—which aims to promote Sikh identity and interpret the religion for the general public—reflected upon the Sikh community’s accomplishments in North America. Achievements mentioned included a young Sikh being allowed to eat dinner in a restaurant wearing his turban, thousands of police officers undergoing training to understand and appreciate the Sikh faith, and the May 2004 court order to reinstate a Sikh police officer, Jasjit Singh Jaggi (who had opted to resign from his job in 2002 after being ordered by supervisors to shave his beard and abandon his religious turban).
On the other hand, in the same year, the Sikh Coalition helped Sikh men, women, and children recover from 62 cases of hate crimes, 27 cases of racial profiling, 22 incidents of employment discrimination, and 17 cases of prosecution for carrying the Kirpan (the short sword used for ceremonial occasions). Since 2003, these struggles have only become more severe.
Like the Muslim community, many hate crimes committed against Sikhs fall under the categories of assault, vandalism, and arson. Also like Muslims who wear the hijab or other coverings, Sikhs have been targeted because of their turbans (known as saroops), an icon associated with terrorism in the minds of many. For example, in 2001 Sikh gasoline station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi was fatally shot by Frank Roque in Mesa, Arizona. Rogue was eventually sentenced to death for the murder. In 2003 a Sikh student at the University of North Carolina was assaulted by three local teenagers on these grounds. In July of 2004, the severe beating of Rajinder Singh Khalsa outside of a New York City restaurant received wide coverage. Khalsa, who served as the president of an organization intended to promote awareness of the Sikh faith and who was wearing the traditional beard and saroop, suffered a broken nose and other injuries from the attack.
Also in 2004, the Sikh community was rocked by controversies over wearing the saroop in public transportation services. First, on June 7, 2004, the Daily Borough News reported that Sikh drivers for a limousine company in Long Island were rallying over their right to wear their turbans. Later, on January 6, 2005, Newsday reported that a Sikh subway operator named Kevin Harrington got into an argument with his supervisor over the uniform requirement that forced him to wear an MTA patch on his turban. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Harrington, 53, of the Bronx, became a Sikh over 25 years ago, and believes that the patch violates his religious rights. The order to wear the patch seemed to many especially unjustified since other caps provided by the MTA to workers did not bear the logo. After the confrontation, Harrington was reassigned to work in the MTA yard where he would be out of public view. Later that year, five New York Sikh station agents filed discrimination charges against the MTA. They cited that the post 9/11 policy requiring Sikhs to brand their turbans with the MTA logo is an act of religious discrimination.
These controversies have only continued since 2005. According to a 2007 survey of Sikh youth by the Sikh Coalition, three out of four students report being bullied and harassed due to their faith. According to the United States Department of Justice, “The Civil Rights Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and United States Attorneys offices have investigated over 800 incidents since 9/11 involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, South-Asian Americans and other individuals.” Federal authorities have successfully convicted 48 perpetrators of hate crimes against “individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin” and have opened investigations against 54 defendants. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has collaborated with state and local prosecutors in over 150 non-federal cases.
In 2007, a fifteen-year-old Queens student suffered his hair being forcibly cut from his head by an anti-Sikh bully at school. Later in 2007, Kuldip Singh Nag (a Gulf War military veteran) was violently assaulted and pepper-sprayed by a police officer. In 2008, a New Mexico Sikh family’s vehicle was vandalized with “F— Allah” and crude graffiti. In 2010, cab driver Harbhajan Singh was attacked by passengers who believed he was Muslim; his assailants called him “Osama Bin Laden” during the assault. In 2011, the Sikh community of Elk Grove, California was traumatized after two elderly Sikh gentlemen were shot and killed by an unknown perpetrator. And in 2012, the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was ripped apart when a lone gunman opened fire, killing seven and injuring three more. The shooter, Wade Michael Page, is suspected to have been a white supremacist. Most recently, in September 2013, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a professor at Columbia University, was brutally beaten by teenagers yelling “Terrorist, Osama, get him.” Singh had been—and continues to be—an outspoken civil rights advocate.
On November 27, 2003 Metro West reported that an Ashland, Massachusetts teenager defaced a Hindu temple in Ashland on Halloween. Anthony Picciolo, 17, was convicted of spray painting hate messages. Police said Piccioli spray painted ‘Sand N—— beware,’ and ‘head,’ on a rock near the Hindu temple. Police said ‘head’ was short for ‘towel head.’ On June 25, 2003 in Boston, Indian graduate student and part-time pizza delivery person Saurabh Bhalerao was the target of deplorable abuse. He was robbed, beaten, burned with cigarettes, stuffed in a trunk and stabbed twice before finally being dumped along a road. Police suspect that the attackers mistook the Hindu man for a Muslim. As they were beating him, the attackers supposedly taunted, “go back to Iraq.”
In recent years, attacks on Hindus have also made headlines, often due to attackers mistaking Hindu practitioners for Muslims. In 2007, six teens were charged for throwing Molotov cocktails at the Hindu temple in Ashland, Massachusetts. In January 2008, an Illinois Hindu community’s homes and temple were vandalized by arson. In June 2010, an Alabama Hindu temple was robbed of their holy statues. In March 2011, Pittsburgh’s Sri Venkateswara temple was attacked at gunpoint and robbed. Finally, one recalls that the 2012 murder of Sunando Sen was predicated upon his killer’s belief that Hindus and Muslims were both responsible for 9/11.
Harassment, vandalism, and arson remain common forms of anti-Semitic discrimination, with swastikas and smashed menorahs being found in the United States from Massachusetts to California. The Anti-Defamation League, a social advocacy organization that is particularly vocal in issues of anti-Semitism, has produced a number of reports on hate crimes against the Jewish community. The ADL cites examples such as the burning of a Holocaust museum in Indiana, the attempt to firebomb a synagogue in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the vandalism of swastikas and epithets on the walls and driveway of a Jewish community center in Phoenix, Arizona.
In 2002 and 2003, anti-Semitic hate crimes appeared to be on the decline. From 1,028 incidents in 2002, only 929 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment were reported in 2003, which is a welcome drop. Additionally, as of 2003, accounts of anti-Semitic vandalism were actually at an all-time low.
However, since 2003, anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism, arson, and other cases have risen. By 2005, The ADL reported 1,821 anti-Semitic incidents, a rise of 17% from the previous year. Incidents of harassment, particularly at American schools, increased by 27 percent from the previous year. Notable incidents in this period included the arson of the entrance to a Jewish cemetery in West Roxbury, Massachusetts in February, swastikas and the slur “Death to Jews” scribbled on a Houston synagogue in December, and members of a hate group harassing patrons at a Connecticut mall and raising Nazi salutes in July. An apartment complex in Ft. Lauderdale, additionally, was targeted with anti-Semitic and racist leaflets “celebrating” Hitler’s birthday in April of 2005.
Anti-Semitic organizations responsible for nearly 15 percent of the recorded harassment cases in 2005 include the neo-Nazi National Alliance, KKK factions, White Revolution, White Aryan Resistance, and David Duke’s European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO). Leafleting and the internet were the main modes of operation for delivering propaganda.
Since 2005, anti-Semitic incidents have grown worse. In 2008, fifty headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Chicago were desecrated, including hanging the magen David from a gallows. In 2009, a white supremacist opened fire at the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC. In 2007, four Jewish students were assaulted on a subway train by eight armed assailants after the students wished them a Happy Hannukah. In 2013, New York’s Jewish community struggled in the aftermath of an arson spree in which twelve Jewish family’s mezuzot were set ablaze.
According to the Civil Rights Leadership Conference, in 2007 there were 969 reported hate crimes committed against Jews. As of 2008, Human Rights First “is aware of over 40 attacks on synagogues” in Europe and the United States. HRF has also tracked over 60 attacks on Jewish cemeteries and memorials, including Holocaust memorials.