WASHINGTON – Anti-Muslim hate crimes decreased sharply in Maryland last year, following what advocates say was a nationwide spike in such crimes following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to new federal crime statistics.
The FBI reported 155 anti-Muslim crimes nationwide in 2002, a 68 percent drop from the 481 crimes reported in 2001, according to statistics in the Uniform Crime Report released last month. In Maryland, the numbers dropped from 15 such crimes in 2001 to three last year.
But the 2002 numbers are still more than five times higher than the 28 anti-Muslim hate crimes reported nationwide in 2000. And Muslim organizations said hate crimes are just one part of the problem faced by Muslims in this country.
“What the report doesn’t account for is that there are still many cases of discrimination,” said Laila Al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
A report this summer by the Council on American Islamic Relations said it received 15 percent more discrimination complaints from Muslims in 2002 than it did in 2001.
Maryland had one of the highest complaint rates in the nation, making up 6 percent of CAIR’s cases. The council attributed that, at least in part, to the fact that CAIR has a strong presence in the region and that Maryland has a relatively large Muslim population.
“People know where to go when they want to report these things,” said Mohammed Nimer, research director of CAIR.
Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, agreed with Muslim advocates that the FBI numbers should not be too heavily relied on. Despite the gaps, however, he said they are still the most reliable national numbers on hate crimes available.
While the FBI numbers do not indicate when crimes took place, most advocates believe the spike in 2001 — up from 28 anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2000 — was attributable to post-Sept. 11 attacks.
The ADL gives credit for last year’s decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes to the federal government, and state and local authorities. Lieberman said the decline could be an indication that the backlash against people of Middle Eastern descent in the wake of Sept. 11 was just temporary.
“We think the administration reacted appropriately and with vigor to these crimes,” Lieberman said.
But others disagree.
“As we move farther away from 9-11, this government increasingly targets Arabs and Muslims in America with programs that racially profile them,” said Dalia Hashad, an Arab-Muslim advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“All these programs send a strong message to the Arab community,” she said, targeting Arabs and Muslims as “automatically criminal suspects.”
The FBI numbers on anti-Muslim crimes mirror an overall 23 percent decrease in hate crimes, from 9,730 in 2001 to 7,462 in 2002. Maryland followed the overall decline, but not as sharply, with a 12 percent drop.
But some cautioned that hate crime reports depend heavily on the policies of local police departments. Some immigrant Muslims may be less willing to call police for fear of deportation, advocates said, and what is considered a hate crime in one jurisdiction may not be in another.
“If the individual believes (an incidence) to be hate related, the police department needs to take it seriously . . . but sometimes that doesn’t happen,” said Bob Barnes, co-chair of the Coalition Opposed to Violence and Extremism. “A lot of police departments are not sensitive to this.”
Montgomery and Baltimore county police departments reported 26 of the 46 religion-motivated hate crimes in Maryland to the FBI in 2002, but Barnes said that does not mean there were more hate crimes in these counties. They simply have better reporting techniques, he said.
And for jurisdictions that reported zero hate crimes, Barnes said, “We know better.”