Incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination are on the rise in South Florida, from slurs painted on mosque walls to a woman told she would have to remove her head covering if she wanted to keep her job, a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Thursday.

Areeb Naseer, CAIR’s legal adviser in Florida, said the group’s offices had received 112 reports of anti-Muslim incidents for the state in 2005, a 9 percent increase from 2004. The complaints included outright hate crimes, such as vandalism at a Boca Raton mosque, verbal discrimination and intolerance of religious practices.

Naseer also said data collected so far in 2006 pointed to a continued upward trend. Nationwide, there was an even sharper rise in anti-Muslim incidents in 2005, up nearly 30 percent from a year earlier, he said.

He cited the experience of Ziad Ismail, a Palestinian car salesman living in Coral Springs, who said he had faced taunts by a fellow employee and their manager at a South Florida dealership.

“If I’m in the men’s room, he [the manager] would say, ‘What happened? Are you making bombs in there?'” Ismail said. “I’m an American citizen like them, and everybody else. It wasn’t right what they did to me.” Ismail later found a note on his windshield telling him to “Go back to Jerusalem, or death.”

Naseer declined to identify the car dealership, saying the company acted correctly by firing the manager.

The report outlined other examples of the cases that CAIR tracks. One involved a Tampa middle school student prohibited from playing in a basketball tournament because she covered her head with a Muslim head scarf called a hijab. In another case, CAIR said an unnamed “major Florida corporation” told a Muslim woman she faced a choice of either removing her hijab or leaving her job. “Discrimination is affecting Muslims in a very fundamental way, in schools where our children are learning, in the workplace where we are earning our livelihood,” Naseer told reporters at CAIR’s South Florida headquarters in Pembroke Pines. “And given the situation in Iraq, the situation in Lebanon and elsewhere, it’s hard to imagine these numbers will come down any time soon.”

The U.S. Muslim community reported a spike in hate crimes after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and many say they brace for a new wave of discrimination whenever terrorism by Muslims hits headline news. Hate crimes dropped off in 2003, then began to climb again, according to CAIR.

Asked why reported incidents of discrimination were on the rise, Naseer noted that most hate crimes have gone unpunished. He said there had been eight or nine reports of vandalism against mosques in South Florida over the past 18 months, but not a single suspect charged.


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