14 Years Later: Still Under Suspicion, Under Attack

Today, the 14th anniver­sary of the trag­ic events of Sep­tem­ber 11th, South Asians are the most rapid­ly grow­ing demo­graph­ic group in the coun­try num­ber­ing over 4.3 mil­lion. Yet, as our com­mu­ni­ties con­tin­ue to grow in new, unex­pect­ed, and long­time des­ti­na­tions, we are increas­ing­ly the tar­gets of hate vio­lence, sus­pi­cion, and sur­veil­lance. Mus­lims, Arabs, South Asians, and those per­ceived as Mus­lim have borne the brunt of a con­tin­ued post‑9/11 back­lash, reflect­ed in poli­cies that cast our com­mu­ni­ties as un-Amer­i­can, dis­loy­al, and sus­pect. Mus­lim, Arab, and South Asian com­mu­ni­ties were swift­ly tar­get­ed for “spe­cial reg­is­tra­tion” through the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Entry-Exit Reg­is­tra­tion Sys­tem (NSEERS) pro­gram just months after the events of Sep­tem­ber 11th. Through NSEERS, more than 80,000 men were required to reg­is­ter with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment; thou­sands more were sub­ject­ed to addi­tion­al inter­ro­ga­tion, deten­tion, and depor­ta­tion. Nev­er­the­less, this exten­sive and mis­guid­ed pro­gram did not result in a sin­gle known ter­ror­ism-relat­ed con­vic­tion. A sur­veil­lance sys­tem first deployed against the Black Free­dom Strug­gle, adapt­ed for NSEERS, and then evolved to spy on Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties through FBI map­ping pro­grams is now in the third stage of its evo­lu­tion through the cur­rent Coun­ter­ing Vio­lent Extrem­ism (CVE) pro­gram, which sin­gle-mind­ed­ly focus­es on Mus­lims to iden­ti­fy and crack down on vio­lent extrem­ism.  The same sys­tem con­tin­ues full cir­cle today to sur­veil  Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment leaders.
The cur­rent polit­i­cal debate con­tin­ues to poi­son and inform the nation­al dis­course about our com­mu­ni­ties and immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties at large. SAALT cap­tured this trou­bling dynam­ic in our Sep­tem­ber 2014 report, Under Sus­pi­cion, Under Attack,which tracked a near­ly 40% increase in xeno­pho­bic polit­i­cal rhetoric from our pre­vi­ous 2010 report. Fur­ther­more, over 90% of these com­ments were moti­vat­ed by anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment.  Some of the most egre­gious polit­i­cal rhetoric from pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates Don­ald Trump and Jeb Bush, among oth­ers has cur­rent­ly labeled immi­grants as “ille­gals” and “anchor babies.”  This whole­sale and unac­cept­able lan­guage implies some do not have the right to be in the Unit­ed States, the quin­tes­sen­tial nation of immigrants.
Four­teen years after increas­ing­ly xeno­pho­bic polit­i­cal rhetoric and mis­guid­ed fed­er­al poli­cies paint­ed our com­mu­ni­ties as dis­loy­al, mono­lith­ic, and sus­pi­cious with no results, Mus­lim, Arab, and South Asian com­mu­ni­ties appear to increas­ing­ly be the tar­gets of hate vio­lence. SAALT’s report, Under Sus­pi­cion, Under Attack, also doc­u­ment­ed 76 inci­dents of hate vio­lence against our com­mu­ni­ties from Jan­u­ary 2011 through April 2014. Over 80% of these inci­dents were moti­vat­ed by anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment. In fact, the most recent FBI hate crime sta­tis­tics released last year show that anti-Islam­ic hate crimes are at their high­est since 2001. 2015 has seen a wave of vio­lent inci­dents aimed at Mus­lim, Arab, and South Asian com­mu­ni­ties. In Feb­ru­ary,three Arab Mus­lim stu­dents at Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill were gunned down exe­cu­tion-style, appar­ent­ly due to their reli­gion. Lat­er that month, a  Pak­istani Mus­lim man and father of three in Ken­tucky was shot and killed in his car after drop­ping his daugh­ter off at school. This week a Sikh man in Chica­go was approached by anoth­er dri­ver who yelled “ter­ror­ist go back to your coun­try” and vio­lent­ly beat him in his own car, requir­ing hos­pi­tal­iza­tion. And we can­not for­get when a known white suprema­cist walked into a Sikh house of wor­ship, or gur­d­wara, and shot and killed six Sikh com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin in 2012. Ear­li­er this year a vicious and dead­ly attack by a white suprema­cist in Moth­er Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Car­oli­na, left nine Black com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers dead. We join oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of col­or to address the grow­ing threat of white suprema­cy that has bur­geoned nation­wide. Accord­ing to the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter, the num­ber of white suprema­cist groups in the Unit­ed States has grown over 54% from 2000 to 2014.
Now more than ever, South Asian com­mu­ni­ties need and deserve trust with law enforce­ment at mul­ti­ple lev­els as we grow in num­ber and con­tin­ue to be tar­gets of vio­lence. In response, SAALT devel­oped a pro­pos­al and suc­cess­ful­ly advo­cat­ed for the cre­ation of the White House Inter­a­gency Task Force on Hate Vio­lence last year. We are work­ing to ensure the task force focus­es on the unique bar­ri­ers our com­mu­ni­ties face with law enforce­ment to report and pre­vent hate crimes, par­tic­u­lar­ly after the revised Depart­ment of Jus­tice Pro­fil­ing Guid­ance was released last year, includ­ing exemp­tions for nation­al secu­ri­ty, bor­der secu­ri­ty, and state and local law enforce­ment. We have seen what hap­pens when our com­mu­ni­ties are vic­tim­ized rather than pro­tect­ed by law enforce­ment: ear­li­er this year Sureshb­hai Patel, an Indi­an grand­fa­ther in Madi­son, Alaba­ma, was beat­en to the point of par­tial paral­y­sis by a local police offi­cer in his son’s neigh­bor­hood. He was mis­tak­en for Black, rec­og­nized lat­er as a South Asian immi­grant with lim­it­ed Eng­lish abil­i­ty, and ulti­mate­ly bru­tal­ized by law enforcement.
To tru­ly real­ize our val­ues as a nation, every­one is enti­tled to equal pro­tec­tion under the law. Our com­mu­ni­ties deserve to know their rights, feel empow­ered to report hate vio­lence, address xeno­pho­bic polit­i­cal rhetoric that will cer­tain­ly surge fur­ther in this elec­tion cycle, and build mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with gov­ern­ment and law enforce­ment. In order for our com­mu­ni­ties to flour­ish as we grow, we must advance poli­cies that uphold our core Amer­i­can val­ues of diver­si­ty, inclu­sion, equal rights, and pro­tec­tion for all.