'Under Suspicion, Under Attack': New SAALT report documents hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric

Hate violence 'hot spots' include New York City, New Jersey, Chicago, Southern and Northern California

This week, as the nation observes the 13th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together), released Under Suspicion, Under Attack, a report that documents over 150 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities over the last three years.

SAALT's analysis, spanning incidents from January 2011 through April 2014, found that these communities are increasingly depicted as un-American, unwelcome and disloyal -- and community members and institutions are too often targeted with violence, vandalism and harassment. Many continue to face a post-9/11 backlash, including racial and religious profiling, unwarranted surveillance, and the threat of violence and intimidation.

According to the report, over 80% of documented hate violence incidents were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. Similarly, an overwhelming majority -- over 90% -- of xenophobic political comments were characterized by anti-Muslim bias. Hate violence 'hot spots' included the New York City/New Jersey metropolitan area; Chicago and its outlying suburbs; and Southern and Northern California.

Here are some of the report's key findings:

The Overall Climate: The climate faced by South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities has become increasingly hostile in the four years since SAALT published From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse. This climate is characterized by profiling and surveillance by law enforcement agencies, the growth of an Islamophobia “industry” that demonizes Muslims via the Internet and media, xenophobic political speech, and hate violence, among other elements.

Xenophobic Rhetoric in Political Discourse: The 78 examples of xenophobic rhetoric by political figures documented over a three-year period in this report underline such rhetoric has become more prevalent since SAALT’s previous report on the issue was published in October 2010. Our 2010 analysis tracked 76 examples over a four-year period. Although both reports documented nearly the same number of incidents, the incidents in this report occurred over a three-year period versus the four-year period covered in the 2010 analysis. SAALT tracked an average of nearly 40% more examples of xenophobic political rhetoric since our previous report. It is clear the political speech targeting our communities is more numerous, more insidious, and is more likely to be heard on a national platform. An overwhelming majority of the xenophobic political comments -- over 90% -- were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment.

Hate Violence: The 76 hate violence incidents we documented demonstrate the high level of hostility our communities face. While our previous report did not track incidents of hate violence, our research indicates a surge in hate violence over the past 13 years. The Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that incidents of hate violence against our communities surged after 9/11 and have remained high with little variation. 2 Over 80% of the instances of hate violence documented for this report were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. Attacks on other faith communities often also involved severe violence.

Impact on Our Communities: This hostile climate has a lasting impact on individuals living in our communities. Many in our communities are being deprived of their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion, speech, and association.

Threat to the Very Fabric of Our Country: Xenophobic rhetoric, hate violence, and other factors that contribute to a hostile climate experienced by members of our communities run contrary to the values of our nation and serve as a chilling reminder that the American principles of freedom and equality remain a dream for many within the U.S. This growing hostility is especially alarming given the shifting racial and demographic fabric of the U.S. and the fact that the South Asian population represents the fastest-growing major ethnic group in the U.S.

Better Practices in Messaging, Policy Advocacy, and Community Mobilization: Despite the overwhelming incidents of xenophobic rhetoric and hate violence, there are also numerous examples of “better practices” from government and community leaders, organizations, and media who played an essential role to shift the narrative in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing to allow for an effective investigation and reduce backlash. In the wake of the Oak Creek tragedy, policy advocacy organizations came together and successfully requested a Senate hearing on hate crimes and a system to track hate crimes against Hindus, Sikhs, and Arabs. Advocacy organizations worked across lines of race, ethnicity, and religion in New York City to raise national awareness on local surveillance, spur legislative and political change, and develop an effective social media campaign to impact discriminatory policing.

You can download and read the full 86-page report here.

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