The Price of Ignorance
April 19, 1995, marked a turning point in the American Muslim experience. On that day, and for some days thereafter, Muslims were blamed for the devastating attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. This unfounded accusation led to numerous incidents of anti-Muslim harassment and violence. Because of that terrible experience came the decision to publish a report each year on Muslim civil rights in the United States. This document, entitled “The Price of Ignorance,” is the first such report.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recorded some 300 anti-Muslim incidents in the year following the Oklahoma City bombing. In addition to bias and bias crimes, Muslims experienced discrimination and intolerance. The trend that developed throughout the year was alarming: reports of verbal abuse and threats of violence decreased from 95 percent to less than 30 percent, while reports of actual violence and discrimination increased from 5 percent to more than 70 percent.
A profile of the Muslim victims indicates they come from a variety of ethnic, attitudinal, and political backgrounds. A majority of the victims took some action to restore their rights. However, some 40 percent took no corrective action, primarily because these Muslims had no legal or financial resources.
Ironically, anti-Muslim incidents increased in a year of overall positive developments for the American Muslim community. This progress was characterized by increased local and national recognition of the growth of Islam in America. However, as Muslims became more visible, old hatreds and negative stereotypes came to the surface.
Anti-Muslim sentiment seemed to thrive on the American public’s general ignorance of Islam and the American Muslim experience. American Muslims, as well as people of other faiths, pay a high price for this communication breakdown, especially with regard to missed opportunities for mutual understanding.
To deal with this lack of information and its negative impact, the Muslim community must expand effective programs designed to educate and reach out to other segments of American society. Also, leaders of other faiths must also recognize this emerging national problem, and publicly condemn anti-Muslim prejudice. Tolerating bigotry will only serve to harm the entire society.