We need to work together against hate crimes

Hate crimes against Asian-Americans must stop.

The horrific killing of six Sikh-Americans in Oak Creek, Wis., at the hands of a white supremacist on Aug. 5 was the most gruesome. But it wasn’t the only recent one.

At around the same time, there were a spate of attacks on mosques around the country and the worshippers inside them. In the course of just two weeks, there were at least eight such attacks.

A mosque was burned down in Joplin, Mo., by a suspected arsonist. Rifle pellets were shot at a mosque in Morton Grove, Ill., where 500 congregants were praying inside. An acid bomb was hurled at an Islamic school in Lombard, Ill. Vandalism was directed at mosques in Hayward, Calif., North Smithfield, R.I., and Oklahoma City. And someone left dismembered pigs’ legs at the entrances of a mosque in Ontario, Calif.

Since 9/11, we have seen a backlash against those among us who even remotely resemble the Sept. 11 attackers. Members of the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities living in the United States, through the ignorance and bigotry of others, have been held responsible for Osama bin Laden’s crime. Ironically, many of the attacks have been against Hindus and Sikhs simply because they shared some vague racial or cultural resemblance to the 9/11 Muslim attackers.

In the week immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, there were 645 reports of bias incidents and crimes aimed at individuals of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent. In the following years, similar incidents continued, but the backlash became more targeted, including desecration of mosques and public resistance to many attempts to build new ones. Many of these incidents clearly rose to the level of hate crimes, though existing laws did not always recognize them as such.

As these crimes show no sign of abating, the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities must work together with other minority communities that have faced, or are facing, similar discrimination and hate crimes.

Our work should not stop there, though. We must demand that our leaders fully address hate crimes and domestic terrorism. Fortunately, the U.S. Senate held a hearing on Sept. 19 on what has been driving these hate crimes and this terrorism.

That’s a start.

But our leaders must do more. They must see to it that incidents of hate crimes and domestic terrorism are thoroughly investigated as such, and they must help create a climate of understanding so we can all live as free and equal citizens of this nation.

Laboni Hoq is litigation director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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