Rights groups see politics behind rise in Muslim hate crimes / Amnesty International says politicians have been pandering to prejudice against Muslims in a quest for votes (LA TIMES) By Carol J. Williams 04/26/12)
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The Oslo courtroom where confessed mass murderer Anders Behring
Breivik is on trial offers a look at a tragic outcome of anti-Islamic
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, years of war and repeated
calls for violence against the West stirred worldwide fears of Muslim
extremism, but many human rights analysts say they find it difficult
to explain a recent surge in anti-Islamic hate crimes other than
political manipulation and fears that displays of Islamic faith
herald new threats from radicals.
In Europe and in North America, where incidents of Islamic extremism
have been few and rarely fatal since the Sept. 11 attacks, anti-
Muslim hate crimes have increased over the last two years as states
enacted laws barring mosque construction and the wearing of veils,
head scarves and beards meant to reflect the depth of Muslims´ faith,
A report this week by Amnesty International identifies widespread
prejudice in Europe, where far-right political parties have gained
traction with anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant fear-mongering that has
served to legitimize discrimination against Muslims in the eyes of
Amnesty said political leaders, rather than combating fears of
Islamic extremism and the equating of the devout with the radical,
have been pandering to prejudice against Muslims in a quest for votes.
Recent legislative actions in France, Belgium, Spain, Turkey and
Switzerland restrict the open practice of Muslims´ faith. Swiss
voters in 2009 passed a referendum banning construction of minarets
in the alpine country, in one of the more powerful displays of
anxiety about the continent´s 44 million Muslims. Other European
nations have acted to restrict Islamic dress in schools and offices
and largely ignored employment discrimination against Muslims,
The curbs aren´t confined to Europe, U.S. Islamic leaders say, citing
the recent battle over building an Islamic cultural center near the
site of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and the legislative
campaigns in at least 20 U.S. states to bar judges from recognizing
sharia, the strict Islamic legal doctrine, which has no authority in
the United States because judges are sworn to uphold the Constitution.
"The bizarre bans on Islamic attire and efforts to target mosques in
Europe have great similarities to what we see here in the United
States," said Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for theCouncil on
Hooper recalled the emotional showdown over the $100-million Islamic
cultural center renovation a few blocks from the site of the
terrorist attacks in New York, and right-wing lawmakers´ holding of
congressional hearings on the threat of Islamic radicalization.
"It´s all an effort to demonize Islam and marginalize Muslims in
society," Hooper said. "Anders Breivik is the logical conclusion of
the extremist views being promoted here and in Europe."
Violent extremism exists in America, the Center for American Progress
said in a similar report last year, taking note of a sharp and
unexplained rise in hate crimes against Muslims.
"Across the globe, there are terrorists killing in the name of Islam,
but a new study from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
Military Academy shows that Al Qaeda attacks kill eight times more
Muslims than non-Muslims," the Washington-based think tank said.
In its research on European attitudes toward Muslims, Amnesty pointed
to the rising clout of right-wing political parties that play on
citizens´ fears of those openly espousing their faith and called on
elected leaders to fight the portrayal of Islam as a violent
theology. The Italian Northern League, Spain´s Platform for
Catalonia, the National Front in France and the National Union Attack
of Bulgaria, a country where hundreds of thousands of Muslims have
lived for centuries, have all gained political followings on anti-
Muslim and anti-immigrant platforms.
"These parties have instrumentalized public sentiments of anxiety and
disenchantment and have contributed to Islam being identified as
the ´most significant enemy,´ by promoting ideologies of ethnic
nationalism and notions of a ´clash of civilizations,´ " Amnesty
There is general agreement among Europeans that racial discrimination
is unacceptable, "but this isn´t the case with discrimination due to
religion, especially Islam," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty´s director
for Europe and Central Asia, citing United Nations and Council of
Europe research on anti-discrimination laws in member states.
The rights group reported that Muslim women who apply for jobs with
their heads or faces covered are routinely passed over or offered
positions on condition they remove the veils.
"Employers argue that employees wearing a head scarf can make
colleagues feel uncomfortable or that they don´t fit into their
company´s image," said Marco Perolini, Amnesty´s discrimination
expert and co-author of the report. "Rather than countering these
prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often
pandering to them in their quest for votes."
In the Center for American Progress report, analysts blamed the fears
stirred about Muslims in North America on a handful of ideologues and
well-heeled institutions bankrolling their propaganda. Some of
the "experts" they accused of spreading false facts about the
propensity for Muslims to embrace extremism were cited by Breivik in
his rambling manifesto about his attacks in Norway last July that
killed 77 people.
In its just-released analysis, the Southern Poverty Law Center cited
FBI national crime statistics showing a jump from 107 anti-Muslim
hate crimes in 2009 to 160 in 2010, noting that the federal agency´s
statistics "are known to vastly understate the real level of hate
The rise was the most dramatic since the first months after Sept. 11,
when attacks on Muslims rose 1,600% to 481 by the end of 2001, said
Mark Potok, editor of the law center´s latest intelligence report.
"The anti-Muslim wave that we saw in 2010, in my opinion, has been
entirely ginned up by opportunistic politicians and professional
Islamophobes," Potok said.
He expects the trend to continue once hate crime statistics for last
year are available, citing the rash of anti-sharia bills and fierce
resistance to construction of mosques in communities including
Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Sheboygan, Wis.; and Temecula, Calif.
"What public figures say really matters," Potok said. "We still have
police and sheriffs inviting in hard-line Islamophobes to teach law
enforcement about Muslims." (Copyright © 2012 Los Angeles Times
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