Washington Muslims and people who are or appear to be of Middle Eastern descent were reported as victims of hate crimes more often last year than ever before, a consequence of the fear and suspicion that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the FBI said Monday.
Although the number of incidents has tapered off, many Muslims remain worried about a new backlash if the United States goes to war with Iraq or is hit with another major terror attack mounted by Islamic extremists.
"There's a great deal of apprehension in the Muslim community as to the demonization of Islam," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The FBI's annual hate crimes report found that incidents targeting people, institutions and businesses identified with the Islamic faith increased from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 - a jump of 1,600 percent. Muslims previously had been among the least-targeted religious groups.
Hate crimes against people because of their ethnicity or national origin - those not Hispanic, not black and not Asian or American Indian - more than quadrupled from 354 in 2000 to 1,501 in 2001. This category includes people of Middle Eastern descent.
The increases, the FBI said, happened "presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11."
Hooper said the FBI figures probably represent only a small portion of the true number of hate crimes, because many of the estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States do not report such incidents.
Despite the increase, Muslims remain behind blacks, Jews and homosexuals in the numbers of reported hate crimes.