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Archive for Tuesday, December 3, 2002

More incidents occurred than listed, leaders say

December 3, 2002

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Lawrence-area Islamic leaders are having a hard time believing the latest FBI statistics on hate crimes.

"Hate crimes in Lawrence?" asked Abdu Aziz, the prayer leader, or imam, at the Lawrence Islamic Center. "I assure you that hate crimes are more than what is reported."

Lawrence reported no hate crimes in 2001, according to a report recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Kansas University reported only two incidents, both motivated by bias against sexual orientation.

The statistics suggest the community is doing better than the rest of the nation, where hate crimes increased 21 percent in a year - to 9,730 in 2001 from 8,063 in 2000.

Furthermore, the report suggests the Lawrence community is not following the national increase in anti-Islamic incidents, which became the second-highest reported among religious-bias incidents in 2001, growing by more than 1,600 percent from the 2000 volume.

But in an interview Sunday, Aziz was able to think of several Lawrence incidents that never made it to the FBI tally.

Hateful acts have become more common since Sept. 11, he said, recalling those in which local Muslims had been spit upon or worse.

Imam Omar Hazim of Topeka also recalled a fight between a young Muslim man and a few non-Muslims shortly after Sept. 11. He said a report was filed, but the Muslim man left the United States.

Muslim women who cover their faces often are easy targets because they stand out, Aziz said. Regardless of the victim, he said the incidents often went unreported due to fear of police or lack of confidence that anything will be done.

The media is to blame for much of the hatred and prejudice against Muslims, said both Aziz and Baha Safadi, formerly a member of the Lawrence Islamic Center's board of directors.

When the government seems to talk of nothing but the war on terror, and the possibility of invading Iraq is in the back of everyone's mind, it's easy for ignorant people to think patriotism means throwing a bottle at their Muslim neighbor, both men said.

"Anybody who is narrow-minded will find these things that are presented, whether intentionally or unintentionally, as encouragement," Aziz said.

Neither Aziz nor Safadi thought the number of incidents would decline as quickly as they increased.

Hate crimes in the immediate future will probably increase because of the militant feelings produced by the media and government, Safadi said.

Furthermore, if any action is taken against the United States, Muslims would automatically be victims, they said.

"If there is anything against the Americans, regardless of who does it or how it is done, that fuels the hate toward Muslims," he said.

Although the Muslim men maintained statistics did not tell the whole story, they conceded Kansas had stayed fairly calm.

Hazim said Topeka had been supportive of its Muslim residents, and Safadi said Lawrence Muslims felt they were a part of the city.

"We believe the community loves us," he said. "Thank God we are living in a place where people are educated enough."

Still, even Lawrence - a city that is often considered liberal and welcoming - can turn its back, Aziz said.

"There are bad apples wherever you go," he said.

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