Jonathan S. Tobin, Gatestone Institute, December 4, 2017
The annual release of the FBI’s hate crime statistics report has attracted little attention by the mainstream media in the past few years. The most recent report, however — revealing a rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims and whites in 2016 — has been greeted with more notice than usual by the daily newspapers; even CNN chimed in to highlight the results of the report.
The reason for the sudden interest in the report was that its data appeared to confirm some of the conventional wisdom about the impact of the U.S. 2016 presidential election on anti-Muslim sentiment in America. According to the report, compared to 2015, there were increases in most categories of hate crimes. The bulk of them were based on race, ethnicity and ancestry — with the total number of such incidents rising by 5%. Still, it is the increase in anti-Muslim crimes, which increased by 20% since 2015, that stands out.
As bad as that sounds, there are those, such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who consider it to be merely another piece of evidence that America has become a hostile place for Muslims since the September 11, 2001 attacks – and particularly since Donald Trump began running for president. In fact, the ADL, which has long held that hate crimes are under-reported, due to the lack of uniform procedures for compiling data in different states around country, views the FBI report as simply the tip of the iceberg.
If the ADL is correct, it would be logical to conclude that hate crimes in America in general, and victimization of American Muslims in particular, may constitute a far greater problem than even the worrisome statistics indicate. In fact, they might mean that those who have suggested that the United States is an Islamophobic nation, as a 2010 Time magazine cover story did, could be right. The more one examines the FBI data, however, the less likely he is to reach such a conclusion.
In the first place, the FBI statistics by themselves do not show the context of the rise in hate crimes and anti-Muslim incidents. What most of the stories about the report neglect to mention is that in 2015, the FBI changed its method of classification. Before then, ethnicity- or nationality-spurred hate crimes were designated as Hispanic or non-Hispanic. The FBI subsequently revised that classification, breaking down hate crimes into a variety of possible categories. As a result, the most recent data is misleading, making the incidents in which Arabs or Muslims were targeted appear to be more numerous than in previous years.
Let us look at the actual data. In 2000, the FBI reported 28 instances of anti-Islamic crimes. In 2001 (the year of the 9/11 attacks), the total rose considerably — to 554 — but then went to down to 171 in 2002. It stayed at that level for most of the decade, dipping to 105 in 2008. In 2010, a year in which a controversy raged over ultimately aborted plans to build an Islamic center and mosque in place of one of the buildings that had been damaged by falling debris from the World Trade Center attacks, the number rose to 161. In 2014, it was 154.
The claim that the relatively small number of hate crimes can be attributed to under-reporting is implausible, given the cultural climate and plethora of media outlets eager to find evidence for Islamophobia. The lack of concrete evidence to support claims of Islamophobia is due to the fact that after 9/11 — and every other jihadist terrorist attack in America since then (such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the San Bernardino attack) — the U.S. government has gone out of its way to discourage anti-Muslim rhetoric and to differentiate the actions of a few fanatics from those of the law-abiding majority.
The myth of a post-9/11 “backlash” against Muslims is politically motivated and spread by groups such as the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which presents itself as a civil rights group, but was founded to serve as a front organization for the terrorist group Hamas. The effort to persuade the public that America is Islamophobic stemmed largely from the aim to shift the narrative about terrorism to that of an Islamist war on the West to one according to which Muslims are terrorized by and in the United States.