John Leo

The Council on American-Islamic Relations and other lobbying groups are reporting a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry and a massive increase in anti-Arab crime in America. Obvious questions: What rising tide? What massive increase?

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, in an article he cowrote, says the reason we haven't heard or read about an upsurge in the crimes is that "by and large, the big backlash never occurred." There are incidents, a few of them horrible, and there are breathtakingly nasty comments, like the ones delivered by a few prominent evangelical preachers in the wake of 9/11. But there is no tide of hate crimes or bigotry because America decisively refused to scapegoat its Muslim and Arab citizens after 9/11 and is refusing to do so now.

The FBI reported 481 anti-Muslim incidents of varying seriousness in all of 2001. The media spun that number as huge. But why? All such incidents are deplorable, but the total doesn't seem large for a nation with 2 million to 7 million Muslims. The FBI's total of anti-Jewish incidents that year was more than twice the Muslim total.

Other bias numbers seem small, too. After conducting nearly 10,000 interviews with U.S.-based Iraqis earlier this year, the government reported opening only 36 cases of "backlash discrimination or hate crimes" in the entire United States. What we commonly get in incident reports is pessimistic rhetoric backed up by paltry or questionable numbers. The Muslim community "continues to be picked out and picked on," said the head of the Human Relations Commission in traditionally conservative Orange County, Calif. But his new stats show only 15 hate crimes and lesser incidents involving Middle Easterners and Muslims in all of 2002, compared with about seven a year during the 1990s. Orange County bigots who pick on Muslims are apparently not up to the job.

Number game. Every now and then a Muslim spokesman slips and admits that the numbers aren't grave. When the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam al-Marayati, testified before the California State Senate in May, he noted that fewer hate crimes against American Muslims were reported during this year's war in Iraq than during the 1991 Gulf War. Good news. But by the end of his testimony, he was back on message, claiming that "Anti-Muslim bias is a systemic disease of our culture today."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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