"As societies build walls of separation between communities,
ICAAD works to remove each brick to illuminate our common humanity"

Op-ed: The Rise of Hate Crimes Can Be Tied Directly to Hateful Speech

Attorney General Eric Holder described the recent massacre of Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin as “an act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime.” Four days later, anti-Semitic graffiti was found at Brooklyn Holocaust Memorial Park, and throughout the month of August, a number of mosques have been attacked and desecrated around the country. Official statistics on hate crimes evidence a steady rise of violence against religious communities over the past five years.
Although there are flaws in the FBI’s method of tracking and monitoring hate crimes, their statistics provide a consistent framework to analyze trends. For example, from 2005 to 2010, hate crimes motivated by religious bias show a consistent upward trajectory—whereas hate crimes against religious communities constituted 17.1 percent of all bias-based crimes in 2005, that number has reached 20 percent in the most recent report published in 2010. This is the highest rate of hate crimes motivated by religious bias in the 18 years since the FBI started tracking hate crimes nationwide in 1992.
Furthermore, while one might assume that the pattern of anti-Muslim violence would have decreased a decade after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, official statistics show that hate crimes against Muslims are at their highest levels since 2001. The most recent FBI data indicates that in a one-year period, from 2009 to 2010, there was a staggering 42 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in this country.
The recent shooting rampage at a Sikh Gurdwara (house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisc., emphasizes the importance of allocating adequate resources to prevent domestic terrorist attacks. The shooter, Wade Michael Page, was a member of the Hammerskin Nation, one of the most violent white supremacist groups in the country. We are deluding ourselves if we do not see the parallel between intolerant or hateful rhetoric and its inevitable consequence. Key issues in our national discourse in 2010 correlate to the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. For example, the controversy surrounding the Park 51 Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, the building of “mega-mosques” around the country, and the threat by a Florida pastor to burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11—all of these instances contributed to a rising anti-Muslim sentiment in America.The vitriolic discourse can also be linked to bias-based violence against other communities. For instance, hate crime against the LGBT community has risen 36 percent from 2005 to 2010. This is in part because of the extreme rhetoric of opponents of the marriage equality movement. Such targeted violence is one symptom of a deeper and more widespread illness plaguing this great nation—the discrimination and “othering” of minority communities.There is a need to observe the specific instances of hate violence within the broader context of discrimination and domestic terrorism. In failing to focus on groups espousing supremacist ideologies, we overlook a major source of the problem. The Southern Poverty Law Center has taken the lead to call on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reassess its use of resources to monitor extremist groups in America.

Daryl Johnson, author of the DHS Report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, focuses our attention on the federal government’s oversight in its efforts to understand and monitor hate groups. He has reported that “in the face of enormous media and congressional criticism, DHS made the decision to cancel all of its domestic-terrorism-related reporting and training for law enforcement.”

The 2009 DHS Report highlighted key triggers that potentially motivate hate groups. These triggers included economic downturn, election of a black president, illegal immigration, gun control, and hate groups recruiting military veterans. With the 2012 election in full swing, recognizing these triggers becomes all the more relevant for the safety of officials and law enforcement today.

As a pluralistic nation that cherishes and protects freedom of expression, we must not forget that we also have an affirmative obligation to counter expressions of hate. Lawmakers, community leaders, media, and others in the public consciousness must be aware of the rising threat of hate or bias-related violence, and furthermore, must take responsibility for fighting bigotry and promoting tolerance. Only by amplifying our voices against the rhetoric of hate and the violence that often results can we be a stronger, safer, and more unified nation.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article reported a 43% increase in hate crimes against Muslims. The correct figure is 42%.


This Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’d like to challenge you to reflect on how fear may have influenced your opinions, especially of others, and to take a step towards the courage to overcome those fears. Why the focus on fear you might ask?

Famed marketer and author Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” outlines six typical manipulations used in sales and marketing, one of which is the use of fear. On fear, Sinek says, “When fear is being employed, facts are incidental. Deeply seated in our biological drive to survive, that emotion cannot be quickly wiped away with facts and figures.”

In the current political atmosphere, in the U.S. and around the globe, fear is often used by politicians and campaigners to polarize debates and to demonize marginalized communities, using them as scapegoats for the real economic, social, and political challenges that societies face.

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood how important fear is, so much so that he gave a sermon on it named “Antidotes for Fear.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, especially because it recognizes the importance, necessity, and creativity of fear (kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/draft-chapter-xiv-mastery-fear-or-antidotes-fear). However, particularly pertinent section was highlighted by King’s wife Coretta Scott King in her book “My life with Martin Luther King, Jr”:

“First Martin spoke of the many kinds of fear that troubled men and women in this period of change and "calamitous uncertainty"— fear of illness or economic disaster, fear of personal inadequacy in our highly competitive society. More terrible was the fear of death, even racial annihilation, in this atomic age, when the whole world teetered on "a balance of terror . . . fearful lest some diplomatic faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust."

"Some fears are normal and necessary," he said, like the fear of snakes in a jungle, but when they become neurotic and unchecked, they paralyze the will and reduce a man to apathy or despair. He quoted Emerson, who wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear."

How, then, to overcome fear? First, Martin said, "We must un-flinchingly face our fears . . . this confrontation will, to some measure, grant us power. . . . "Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man— courage . . . courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”"

MLK Coretta Scott King Simon Sinek
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