In the 112 days between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2001, there were at least 450 news stories in the American press about a possible backlash against Muslims in the United States. That's what I found from a search through the LexisNexis news database for stories containing the words "Muslim," "hate crimes" and "backlash." That's just about one story for every single instance of anti-Muslim violence or harassment in 2001, according to just-released FBI data.
That year, there were 481 instances of "hate crimes" against Muslims, people of Middle Eastern descent or people who looked like they might be Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent. The crimes themselves were anything from leaving a nasty message on someone's answering machine to murder. There are reportedly 7 million Muslims in the United States. My back-of-the-envelope math reveals this amounts to 0.0069 percent of the Muslim or "Muslim-looking" population of the United States being the victims of hate crimes.
Now, nobody's in favor of crimes of any kind -even the ones dubiously called "hate crimes." But, truth be told, that statistic sounds pretty good to me. And again, when I say good, I don't mean to say that there's an acceptable level of "hate" crimes. But when put up against the bleating of the media and the hysteria of various Muslim activists and human rights groups, this sounds like a problem that has been handled well rather than a crisis.
For example, according to FBI data, there were 2,899 hate crimes against blacks in 2001, more than 1,000 against Jews and nearly 1,400 against homosexuals. There were nearly twice as many hate crimes against whites -891 -than there were against Muslims or people confused for Muslims.
But some people insist that this constitutes an epidemic. For example, in mid-November the group Human Rights Watch came out with a much-hyped report declaring that anti-Muslim hate crimes had spiked "1,700 percent." Using preliminary data provided by the FBI (and finalized on Nov. 25), Human Rights Watch noted that there were 28 allegedly anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2000 and 481 in 2001, hence a 1,700 percent increase. This prompted The New York Times to announce that crimes against Muslims "soared" in 2001. According to this math, the number of newspapers carrying this column has increased, let's say, 5,000 percent since 2001. And yet, bizarrely, I am not a household name.
Indeed, at times, it seemed like the press and the activists wanted a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria in the United States. Newspapers touted numerous front-page outrages that turned out to have no anti-Muslim bias whatsoever. Groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations worked overtime to portray America's Islamic community as a besieged and heavily victimized population, and the press was more than eager to lend a sympathetic ear.
Foreign outlets like the BBC blared the 1,700 percent "statistic" which, predictably, was picked up in the Arab press as proof of widespread "reprisals" against Arabs and Muslims in the United States. Unfortunately, when the facts were revealed, they rated small items in the back pages of U.S. papers and, obviously, didn't merit mentioning in the Arab press.
Now, again, nobody wants any hate crimes to be committed or tolerated (even though, as a matter of law, I think the very concept of hate crimes is dubious). And, sure, Arab and Muslim activists are no doubt correct that some crimes and offensive acts went unreported to the police -even though various law-enforcement agencies made unprecedented efforts to catalog and combat hate crimes after 9/11.
But even if you double or triple or quintuple the number of official hate crimes against Muslims, Sikhs, Arabs and people who look like them, the number of such offensives simply does not indicate a widespread post-9/11 backlash. Even Human Rights Watch agrees that hate crimes against Muslims have dropped to "normal" pre-9/11 numbers, which is to say Muslims are victimized less than many other groups. And, historically speaking, even the worst-case scenarios don't even compare to the indignities and even lynchings visited upon German-Americans during World War I or the internment of the Japanese during World War II.
But the most important point that sometimes get lost in all of this is that hate crimes against Americans truly soared in 2001. A group of religious bigots and fanatics murdered thousands of Americans solely because they were Americans on Sept. 11. And they're still doing it. They're immensely proud that they got away with their hate crimes. We're paranoid that we might be vaguely responsible for a few similar crimes. And therein lies all the difference.