Despite educational outreach programs, sensitivity training and cross-cultural soul searching in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, a recent report has found anti-Muslim bias attacks are at an all-time high.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a nationwide nonprofit Islamic civil liberties organization, showed a nearly 30 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents between 2004 and 2005, the highest number of complaints since the group started compiling statistics more than a decade ago.
The report, released in late September, found 80 percent of the complaints concentrated in just eight states and the District of Columbia -- with 4 percent of cases in New Jersey.
Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's national legal director, said the fact that CAIR now has offices in 32 states and that a lot more people are coming forward to report bias incidents have contributed to the increased numbers, but not enough to skew the bottom line.
"The primary reason is there is still rising anti-Muslim sentiment, and Islamaphobia is becoming more institutionalized," Iftikhar said. "You hear a lot more anti-Muslim rhetoric in media outlets, and Muslim-bashing has sort of become the acceptable racism in this country now."
New Jersey has the fifth-largest Arab-American population in the United States, with an estimated 240,000 Arab-Americans, according to a census analysis by the Washington D.C.-based Arab American Institute. New Jersey's Arab-American Diaspora includes people of many different religions, and the state is also home to several non-Arab populations of Muslim faith.
Amal Elrafei, who works at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Clifton, said the recent CAIR findings reflected her own experience with racial profiling this summer.
Elrafei, an American citizen, was returning from her native Egypt with her three children in August when she said she was detained with more than 200 other passengers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
The group was held for more than four hours, with no information as to why they were being detained and no access to phones to contact worried family members waiting outside, according to Elrafei. Elrafei said it was the offensive way she and others were treated by airport security officials who prompted her to file a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
"There were two components to my complaint," she said. "The first one is the actual regulations that would require us to be stopped and profiled, and the other is what those officers did with the power that they had. They were very disrespectful. They were insolent. They didn't even give us our basic rights as human beings."
The Department of Homeland Security did not return a call by deadline seeking comment.
For Mehmet Ibis, a Turkish national whose brother, Zuhtu Ibis, was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, the pain of losing a loved one has been compounded by the anti-Muslim backlash his family has suffered in the wake of Sept. 11.
Mehmet Ibis, who is Muslim, said he is still angry about the way he was treated by police officers who handcuffed and threatened him on Sept. 11, calling him a suspicious terrorist as he paced the Hoboken waterfront, desperate to get to Manhattan to search for his missing brother. He said customers at his Edison gas station constantly subject him to anti-Muslim diatribes, and his elderly parents were verbally accosted outside a Clifton grocery store by a man yelling anti-Muslim remarks at his mother, who wears a head scarf.
"Before people start blaming the Muslim world, and before they start blaming Islam, people should find out about Islam more," he said.
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