Et al - SUSAN MUSARRAT AKRAM, Professor and Supervising Attorney - Boston University International Human Rights Clinical Program. She holds a JD from The Georgetown University Law Center. Was formerly a Visiting Professor at AL-QUDS UNIVERSITY, PALESTINE SCHOOL OF LAW. Her research and publications focus on immigration, asylum, refugee and human and civil rights. “Race, Civil Rights, and Immigration Law after September 11, 2001: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims.” NYU Annual Survey of American Law 58 (2002), 295-355. http://www.privacysos.org/sites/all/files/akram.pdf
Times of crisis are often accompanied by hostility toward minorities in the United States. For Arabs and Muslims, this may be even more problematic, as perpetrators of hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims frequently fail to differentiate among persons based on religion or ethnic origin, from Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians, and Japanese to Muslims, Sikhs and Christian Arabs.89 The widespread perception in the United States is that Arabs and Muslims are identical and eager to wage a holy war against the United States.90 In fact, according to a 1993 report, only 12% of the Muslims in the United States at that time were Arab,91 and Arab Mus-lims are even a minority in the Arab-American community.92 Although there are Muslim “extremists,” the majority of Muslims are “decent, law-abiding, productive citizens.”93 Because of the lack of differentiation between different types of Arabs and Muslims, terrorist acts by small groups of Arabs and Muslims often have been followed by generalized hostility toward entire communities of Arabs and Muslims in the United States. For example, after Lebanese Shi’a gunmen in 1985 highjacked TWA Flight 847 to Beirut, beat an American on the plane to death, and held the remaining passengers hostage for over two weeks,94 violent attacks against persons of Arab and Muslim origin occurred across the United States.95 Islamic centers and Arab-American organizations were vandalized and threatened. A Houston mosque was firebombed. A bomb exploded in the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee office in Boston, severely injuring two policemen. 96 Later that same year, after terrorists hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise liner and murdered a passenger, a wave of anti-Arab violence swept the country, including the bombing of an American- Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee office that killed its regional executive director.97
(Ryan D. King is an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Albany in the United States. His research focuses on extremist violence and hate crime in the United States and Europe, “Terrorist Attacks and Hate Crimes: Lessons from 9/11”, http://extremisproject.org/2012/12/terrorist-attacks-and-hate-crimes-lessons-from-911/, December 10, 2012, ak.)
On September 15th, 2001, Balbir Singh Sodhi walked out of the Chevron station he owned in Mesa, Arizona, to arrange a flowerbed outside the store. Seconds later, a pickup truck pulled into the gas station, stopped briefly, and the driver fired several shots from a .38 handgun. Sodhi, a Sikh immigrant from India and the father of two daughters, was shot five times and lay dead in front of his store, the victim of the first, but not the last, fatal hate crime following the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Sodhi’s assailant, Frank Roque, subsequently fired on two other persons that day who appeared in his eyes to be Arab or Muslim. When apprehended, Roque stated he was “a patriot” and “stood for America all the way.” Much scholarly attention has been directed towards the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States, and rightly so. It’s imperative that we learn what warning signs were missed and what security measures were inadequate. Yet there is also a story to be told about the aftermath, and among the lessons we learned from 9/11 is that a backlash in the form of hate crime is likely to follow. The murder of Balbir Sodhi was one of many hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims and Arabs, or those who appeared to be of that faith or ethnicity, beginning on September 11th, 2001. According to hate crime statistics provided by the FBI, there were over 1,000 hate crimes with an anti-Muslim or anti-Arab motive during the fourteen-day period beginning on September 11th.* By comparison, fewer than 300 hate crimes with this motivation were reported to the FBI between January 1st and September 10th of that year. If we focus only on anti-Islamic hate crimes (omitting anti-Arab), 60% of the hate crimes that year occurred during that two-week stretch. The post-9/11 hate crime wave was fueled largely by the emotion of anger and the desire for retribution that pervaded the United States, a fact that should not surprise us. The 20th century is replete with examples of mass violence against minority groups that were ignited by terrorist attacks or assassinations. For instance, the Kristallnacht pogrom that took of the lives of many German Jews in November of 1938 followed the assassination of a German diplomat at the hands of a Jewish youth. The psychologist Brian Lickel and his colleagues refer to this tendency as ‘vicarious retribution’ – a proclivity to punish innocent third parties who in some way resemble the perpetrators of an attack – and this sentiment is often found in the wake of terrorist acts. When my colleagues, Ilir Disha (University at Albany and lead author of the study) and James Cavendish (University of South Florida), and I wrote about post-9/11 hate crimes in the United States in the journal Social Problems, we focused on the broader lessons to be learned from the 9/11 case. Our study looked at the pre and post-9/11 hate crimes in detail, breaking down crimes by day and type to answer some fundamental questions. For instance, how long did the post-9/11 hate crime wave last? Were hate crimes more likely to be perpetrated in New York and Washington than places not directly targeted by the terrorists? Were these crimes perpetrated by organized groups? And what, if anything, might be done to stymie hate crime waves in the future? Our results suggest a few patterns. Hate crime waves following terrorist attacks are intense but short in duration With respect to the first issue – the duration of the hate crime wave – our analysis shows that post 9/11 hate crimes took the form of a peak more than a plateau (see Figure below). The crime wave began abruptly on September 11th and reached its highpoint within 48 hours, and the subsequent decline was nearly as rapid. In short, we can expect hate crime waves following terrorist attacks by foreign groups to be immediate and intense, but ultimately short in duration. There is some evidence that hate crime levels never fully returned to pre-9/11 averages, but clearly the initial wave quickly subsided. Attacks are geographically dispersed and victimization risk is associated with target population size We also find that hate crimes increased across the country. That Balbir Sodhi was murdered thousands of miles from the site of the attacks is not anomalous. Anti-Muslim hate crimes increased in Mesa as well as New York; in Chicago as much as in Washington. Among the few demographic characteristics that help sort out where Arabs and Muslims were at higher risk are the size of these respective populations. Intuitively, the raw number of hate crimes was more likely in counties with larger Arab and Muslim populations, largely because of opportunity; more targets equate to more crimes. Yet if we look at the rate of hate crimes per Arab or Muslim population, our analysis suggests that individual Arabs and Muslims were at higher risk of victimization where they were small in number. Counties with large Arab populations, such as Wayne County in Michigan (largest city is Detroit) experienced more hate crimes than other large counties, but when standardizing this number by the Arab population the rate was far smaller than other counties. From the victim’s perspective we might say there is safety in numbers. Evidence suggests hate crimes were rarely the work of organized hate groups Finally, there is no evidence that a sizeable proportion of hate crime was perpetrated by organized hate groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks extremist groups, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups increased after the attacks of 2001, yet the FBI data and media reports of hate crimes indicate that people like Frank Roque were the more common perpetrator – angry men with a grievance, but not actively involved with an extremist organization. Two additional points are pertinent to the aftermath of mass terrorism, particularly as it relates to hate crime. First, is the post 9/11 hate crime wave unique? Or should we expect a similar backlash in other settings? In my assessment 9/11 is unique only in its magnitude. We saw a smaller but hardly negligible increase in hate crimes against Muslims following the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, for which responsibility was initially attributed to Islamic fundamentalists (it was soon revealed that an American, Timothy McVeigh, was responsible, and the anti-Muslim attacks ceased). As the economist Steven Machin has found in his research, attacks against Muslims also rose sharply following the bombing of the London Underground in July of 2005. A violent wave of anti-Islamic attacks also followed a deadly attack on a train in India in February of 2002. A backlash seems predictable, particularly following lethal attacks in which responsibility is attributed to a specific minority group. Finally, can anything be done to prevent hate crimes against innocent civilians if another terrorist attack occurs? My guess is there is little that local or federal governments could have done to prevent the murder of Mr. Sodhi. However, if the goal is to minimize the intensity of attacks on innocent third parties following a terrorist act, two actions are worth trying. The first is simply disseminating information to at-risk populations. Arabs and Muslims (and Sikhs as well) should take extra precautions during the week following a terrorist attack in which Islamist fundamentalists are suspects. They are clearly at a higher risk of victimization during the week or two after an attack such as 9/11 or July 7. A second action calls on leaders to confront the issue early and publicly. About a week following the 9/11 attacks President Bush gave a speech stating that the true faith of Islam was not about terrorism, and that Muslim Americans should be treated with respect. Whether this speech truly had an effect is beyond the scope of this blog (although hate crimes decreased after the speech), but setting the tone at the top is among the few weapons in the government’s arsenal. Our first hope is that terrorism does not occur. But if it does, the lessons of 9/11 suggest that the potential for reactionary crime and violence is high, and we should plan accordingly.