Group highlights civil rights abuses against Muslims

Council on American-Islamic Relations Massachusetts Civil Rights Director Barbara Dougan takes questions from a reporter from The Associated Press, Wednesday, March 27, 2019, in Boston. The state's largest Islamic advocacy organization is releasing its first annual report on the civil rights abuses faced by local Muslims. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

An elementary school student who received threatening notes in her classroom. A congressional candidate who dealt with anti-Islam political flyers during her campaign. And a mother who was subjected to an invasive airport search.

Those and many other cases from 2018 are highlighted in a new report released Wednesday by the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the state’s largest Islamic advocacy organization.

In its first annual civil rights report, the organization said it received 232 requests for legal assistance last year, down about six percent from 2017, when the organization saw a surge in requests for help on immigration cases related to the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries.

The goal of the report is to educate the public about the abuses local Muslims are facing while also encouraging people to step forward if they’re dealing with similar issues, said Barbara Dougan, the group’s civil rights director.

“The perpetrators and haters are emboldened,” she said. “The level of aggression toward women is especially troubling. Muslim women who wear hijabs are shouldering the greatest burden of the physical violence and harassment.”

Among the prominent cases highlighted was one involving a fifth-grader at Hemenway Elementary School in Framingham who received two notes in her classroom storage bin — one calling her a terrorist and the other threatening her with death. The incident prompted an outpouring of support from across the country as some 500 people sent letters of encouragement to the young student as part of a campaign promoted by the council.

The report also mentions a 2018 case in which a 54-year-old Muslim woman said she was subjected to a hostile and invasive airport search while wearing a long dress and hijab. The council said the search “bordered on sexual assault” and filed a complaint with the federal Transportation Security Administration on the woman’s behalf in May. At the time, the agency said it was unaware of this incident and had no formal complaint on record but added all allegations of improper behavior are thoroughly investigated.

The report notes that Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who is a member of council’s Massachusetts board of directors, was subjected to a series of bizarre, anti-Muslim mailers during her failed bid for Congress last year that attacked Islam, the council and the media.

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