Hate crimes and other acts of vengeance skyrocketed nationwide against Muslims and other immigrants from the Middle East after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a long-awaited FBI report released Monday.
But Islamic leaders in Washington and elsewhere, many of whom were themselves the targets of outrage in the days after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit, said the new numbers do not reflect even more acts of retribution that countless immigrants were afraid to report.
The FBI found that while attacks against Muslims had previously been the least common hate crime against a religious group--just 28 in 2000--the number of incidents surged to 481 in 2001, an increase of 1,600%.
The huge rise is "presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11" of 2001, the FBI said.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that while much of the bias has tapered off, there was a tremendous backlash at first.
"These new numbers come from the initial weeks and months after 9/11," he said, "when it was just basically out of control. We couldn't keep up with the reports." According to the FBI report, most incidents targeting Muslims and others of Middle Eastern background ranged from assaults to intimidation. There also were three cases of murder or manslaughter and 35 arson fires, the FBI said.
The hate crime statistics were drawn from almost 12,000 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies around the country. Areas of the country with large Muslim populations, such as Southern California, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, reported the most incidents.
The report did not break down the increases in specific cities. But it noted that overall in Los Angeles, there were 450 hate crimes targeting victims for their race, ethnic background or religion.
In addition, much of the retaliation continued into the early part of this year, until the U.S. war on terrorism in Afghanistan began to wind down.
Hooper and other Arab American leaders said that many immigrants stayed home in the days after Sept. 11, afraid to go to work or school or to shop for fear of retaliation. In many cities, mosques were the target of vandalism. Also bothersome because it was widespread, Hooper said, were incidents in which people were abused while simply walking on the street. "There were shouts from a passing car," Hooper said. "There was verbal harassment. There were comments at work. It just degrades you."
He and others said that many Muslims were afraid to report hate crimes to the FBI, out of fear the bureau would want to investigate them. Mohamad Ali Elahi, the imam at the Islamic House of Wisdom in Detroit, where a half-million of the nation's 7 million Muslims live, said many people of the Islamic faith still suffer emotionally from the backlash.
"For us, the pain continues, the suffering continues," he said. "The prejudice that was produced after this disastrous event insulted the sacredness and the belief system of our faith community."