Incidents involving hate and discrimination against Muslims in California increased by 10 percent in 2016, according to an annual civil rights report released Tuesday, Aug. 29, by the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The report includes complaints about hate crimes, hate incidents, bullying in schools, interactions with law enforcement and discrimination in employment, housing, immigration and travel.
The report shows California handled 1,239 incidents in 2016, an increase in civil rights complaints from 2015.
A hate crime is defined as a criminal incident that causes damage to person or property; a hate incident is a non-criminal act such as a verbal attack.
“That’s on top of a 34 percent increase in 2015 compared to 2014,” said Masih Fouladi, advocacy manager at Anaheim-based CAIR-LA, which represents Muslim communities in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.
“In Southern California, in 2016, we saw a pretty big increase in hate crimes, hate incidents, employment and travel discrimination.”
The report, which covers the Greater Los Angeles Area, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento, shows a 49 percent rise statewide in discriminatory treatment against Muslims during travel from 2015 to 2016, incidents that often involved unexplained detention of individuals traveling from Muslim-majority countries. Those numbers are expected to increase in 2017 as a result of the Trump administration’s controversial travel ban, Fouladi said.
The categories receiving the most incident reports for 2016 were immigration (38.8 percent), law enforcement interactions (17 percent), hate incidents or hate crimes (14.7 percent) and employment discrimination (10.6 percent). Immigration incidents involved cases where applications for visas or citizenship were held up.
Fouladi said the number of Muslims reporting discrimination has also significantly increased because CAIR and other organizations are raising awareness about the importance of reporting incidents. This year, CAIR-LA has conducted more than 75 “Know Your Rights” workshops relating to law enforcement interactions and travel, he said.
Sohil Nader, an Irvine security guard, is among those who contacted CAIR-LA after an interviewer at a large security company refused to hire him because he wouldn’t get rid of his beard.
“I saw others in that company who had long beards but who probably weren’t Muslim or the same skin color as I was,” Nader said. “What does shaving my beard have to do with my education, experience, qualifications or ability to do a job well?”
Nader said he used CAIR-LA’s help to file a complaint against the company with the Department of Fair Housing and Employment because he wants the business held accountable.
South Los Angeles resident Yousef Turshani said he had the FBI knocking on his door after a family camping trip during which he and three other men were seen praying. Someone had told the authorities that the men were making “X” signs on the dirt with sticks in Angeles National Forest and talking about jihad, a holy war Islamist terrorists claim to wage against non-believers.
Turshani, a pediatrician with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says he was shocked when FBI agents contacted him and his friends.
“Our only offense was we were camping while Muslim,” he said.
Turshani and his friends approached CAIR-LA and asked for a meeting with the FBI with a CAIR representative present. The issue was resolved after the 10-minute meeting when FBI officials realized that the complaint was without merit, he said.
While hate crimes and hate incidents receive the most public attention, stories of individuals like Turshani who face discrimination are less known, said Rusty Kennedy, CEO of the Orange County Human Relations Council.
“Immigration and travel have been large issues in the last year nationwide, particularly with regard to Syrian refugees and those traveling from Muslim-majority countries,” he said. “And those attitudes play out locally with regard to hate crimes and hate incidents.”
Muslim residents in Los Angeles County are being targeted with stereotyping, aggression, hostility and violence, said Robin Toma, executive director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.
“We know that hate crimes are only a small part of the type of hostility and discrimination Muslim Americans have to deal with,” he said.
Toma says the discrimination the Muslim American community faces is real.
“These incidents are well documented and we are looking at a clear trend showing an increase in prejudice that you can see across many reports filed by community organizations and law enforcement,” he said. “The issue is not about whether these reports are made up. The much greater problem is that these incidents are under-reported.”
CAIR, itself, has been the target of verbal and written attacks. Right-wing websites and blogs often refer to CAIR as a “terrorist organization.”
CAIR, along with the Muslim American Society, is listed as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates. But that country’s designated list of terrorist groups leaves out well-established organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Stateside, CAIR has never been charged with any criminal activity and operates with a tax-exempt status. The U.S. government does not list CAIR as a terrorist organization.
Fouladi says the criticism of CAIR is another example of Islamophobia and an attempt to undermine its credibility as an advocacy group.
“It’s our job to continually push back and shed light on these issues our community members are experiencing, especially under this administration,” he said. “This data is important because it is something we can use to show policymakers that discrimination is a real issue. No matter how people attack us, this issue has to be addressed.”