15 Years Later: Transforming Our Demographic Power into Political Power

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 11, 2016
Contact: Lakshmi Sridaran, lakshmi@saalt.org

It has been fifteen years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, fifteen years since South Asian Americans visibly joined the conversation on race in America, and fifteen years of policies that have stripped our communities of civil liberties. In the meantime, South Asian Americans have emerged as the fastest growing demographic group in the nation, at nearly 4.5 million strong. While September 11th galvanized engagement and mobilization in our communities and seeded multiple South Asian organizations across the country, there has been little progress toward stemming the tide of violence against our communities. According to FBI hate crimes statistics released last year, anti-Muslim crimes are the only category to see an increase. For the first time this year, we will be able to see the results of the FBI finally adding categories for hate crimes committed against Sikhs, Arabs, and Hindus. Even this data will only tell a fraction of the story: reporting of hate crimes by local law enforcement is not mandatory. Federal government estimates indicate that the actual number of hate crimes committed against Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities is likely 25 to 40 percent higher than what the FBI reports.

In response to the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino last year and the ensuing backlash against our communities, SAALT created an online database to track incidents of hate violence and speech targeting South Asian, Arab, and Muslim communities and individuals. In just eight months, we have already documented nearly 100 incidents of hate violence and almost 70 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric targeting our communities. This is particularly troubling given our 2014 report, “Under Suspicion, Under Attack” captured 76 incidents of hate violence and 78 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric, overwhelmingly motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, in a three-year period. In that report, we also found that over two-thirds of the rhetoric came from leaders at the national level. The current rhetoric of white supremacy underpinned by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment has made the 2016 election year uglier than ever. These sentiments are not merely words alone; they are borne out in a number of policies that reinforce those messages by painting our communities as un-American and disloyal, which have very real consequences in our communities. The sharp rise in both xenophobic political rhetoric and hate violence create an increasingly hostile climate for our communities that make us all vulnerable.

On the other side of this equation, we have seen the massive growth of a racial profiling and surveillance infrastructure by our government that singularly targets Muslim American communities in the name of national security. Our communities see a mixed message when the government’s policies make us the targets of racial and religious profiling even as we face hate violence and ask law enforcement to keep us safe. The resulting and profound mistrust our communities have in government leads to hate crimes going underreported and creates a vicious cycle of victimization. One case in point is the federal Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, which has burgeoned into a multi-pronged effort to spy on Muslim communities in their places of work, worship, recreation, and now even in schools through the ‘Don’t Be a Puppet Program’ in the name of identifying “radical extremism.” Rather than addressing the growing threat of white supremacy as perpetrators of violence, CVE narrowly focuses on Muslim American communities alone. The Southern Poverty Law Center has carefully documented the growth of white supremacist groups, including a troubling spike in 2015. CVE evokes the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program implemented immediately after September 11, 2001. Through NSEERS, more than 80,000 South Asian, Muslim, Arab, and Middle Eastern men were required to register with the federal government; thousands more were subjected to additional interrogation, detention, and deportation. The extensive, expensive, and misguided program did not result in a single terrorism-related conviction. The Department of Justice policy on the use of race by law enforcement greenlights profiling in the name of national and border security, reinforcing racial and religious profiling everyday in our neighborhoods, borders, and airports. No policy addresses the epidemic of police violence targeting the Black community, which is the foundation of racial profiling in this country. Finally, our immigration system continues to cast our communities as suspicious and disloyal. This year, Bangladeshi Muslim asylum seekers were confined, force-fed, and ultimately deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while their cases were still being appealed in immigration courts. Rather than being protected from political persecution in Bangladesh, these asylum seekers were denied their civil rights in the U.S. and returned home against their will, almost certain to face violence.

The political rhetoric is painful and dangerous, but the policies that are unfolding everyday in our communities are even more insidious. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the impact of these policies and the rising tide of hate violence will continue if we do not demand change now. We have come a long way in fifteen years because our communities are visible, vocal, and much more organized. The work ahead of us is about transforming our demographic power into political power. As our nation plans for a future with a majority people of color population, including South Asian Americans at the forefront of that growth, we must ensure our country’s founding principles apply equally across communities. Fifteen years after September 11th, liberty and justice for all remains a dream deferred for Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities. On this Patriot Day, we are reminded that as a nation we can and must do better.