A Justice Department Attorney on Anti-Muslim Discrimination

By Chris Good

Three weeks after Rep. Peter King's (R) widely publicized hearing on American Muslim radicalization, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) held his own, converse hearing today examining the civil rights of Muslims in America.

Durbin's was a smaller affair--a subcommittee, rather than full committee gathering--and drew less attention. But, while Durbin has been attacked by the fiercer voices out there for perpetuating a culture of faux Muslim victimization, the testimony of a Department of Justice attorney supported his goal in looking into persecution.

Appearing as a witness, Thomas E. Peretz, assistant attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said discrimination and hate crimes against Muslims are a problem to which the department gives considerable attention.

Some excerpts from the prepared testimony (seven-page .pdf) he submitted to the subcommittee:

Regrettably, Arab-American, Muslim American, Sikh-American and South Asian American individuals have become targets for those who wrongfully wish to fix blame on members of these groups for the despicable acts of terrorists. ...

We continue to see hate crimes against Muslims - or those perceived to be Muslim - committed by those, who, in the words of Attorney General Holder, "use the twisted logic that an attack on innocents can somehow be avenged by another attack on innocents." We continue to see discrimination and harassment in the workplace, in schools and on playgrounds, and before local zoning boards.

For these reasons, working to combat the ongoing Post 9-11 backlash is a top priority for the Civil Rights Division, and we have expanded our work in this area under the leadership of Attorney General Holder. ...

Since 9-11, the Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson against persons perceived to be Muslim or to be of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian origin. The perpetrators of these incidents have employed diverse means, and the incidents have taken many different forms: over the telephone, internet, mail, and face-to-face; from minor assaults to assaults with dangerous weapons and assaults resulting in serious injury and death; through vandalism, shootings, arsons, and bombings directed at homes, businesses, and places of worship. ...

Federal charges have been brought in 37 cases against 50 defendants, with 45 convictions to date. In addition, the Department has coordinated with and provided assistance to state and local prosecutors in numerous non-federal criminal prosecutions. Although the frequency of these incidents lessened in the months following 9-11, we continue to see a disturbing trend of violence against members of these communities. ...

Since 2001, the Division has opened a variety of cases of employment discrimination involving the rights of Muslim Americans. In 2005, the Division filed suit against the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority for its policy forbidding employees from wearing religious head coverings with their uniforms, affecting Muslim and Sikh bus drivers, subway operators, and other employees who believe their head coverings are religiously mandated. The suit alleges that a stated no-hats policy has been applied inconsistently, with employees permitted to wear various secular hats and head coverings. We continue to vigorously litigate this case, and recently defeated the MTA's motion for summary judgment. ...

Over the last year, we have seen an increase in our RLUIPA [a law passed in September that protects places of worship against zoning laws, as well as the rights of prisoners to worship while incarcerated] cases and investigations involving mosques. Of the 24 RLUIPA matters involving mosques that the Department has opened since the law was passed, 14 have been opened since May 2010. We believe this reflects a regrettable increase in anti-Muslim sentiment.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/03/a-justice-department-attorney-on-anti-muslim-discrimination/73199/