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Violence Against South Asians Has Returned To Post-9/11 Levels: Report

“The unprecedented violence we saw following the September 11 attacks has returned, electrified by a hostile 2016 presidential election.”

13/01/2017 5:27 AM IST | Updated 13/01/2017 5:30 AM IST

For South Asian-Americans, history seems to have repeated itself in a disturbing way, a recent report shows. 

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a non-partisan nonprofit, released a report Wednesday on acts of hate during the election cycle directed at individuals in the South Asian community.

The report highlights a startling point. 

“The unprecedented violence we saw following the September 11 attacks has returned, electrified by a hostile 2016 presidential election."

“The unprecedented violence we saw following the September 11 attacks has returned, electrified by a hostile 2016 presidential election,” Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT, explained in a press release. 

The nonprofit looked at instances of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities, the report notes. Through its public online database, which documents these incidents, the group saw 207 of such attacks within a year. 

What’s more, President-elect Donald Trump was responsible for 20 percent of the documented instances of xenophobic rhetoric, the report stated. 

SAALT, which found 140 incidents of hate violence, observed a huge spike in the American South, where 30 percent of South Asian communities reside. It’s particularly alarming, as the area has the largest concentration of South Asian American population growth over the last fifteen years, the report noted. 

More than half of the 67 documented incidents of xenophobic rhetoric came from statements by former or current elected officials, candidates for elected office at all levels, and appointed officials. Trump and other Republican candidates made up a significant portion of the collected instances. Statements documented in the report include Trump’s tweet congratulating himself on “being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” along with Trump’s calls for a “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S. 

Trump has since walked back his initial comments on a Muslim ban, saying his views have since “morphed” and that individuals from certain countries, most of which are majority-Muslim, should be kept out out of the U.S. 

What’s more, President-elect Donald Trump was responsible for 20 percent of the documented instances of xenophobic rhetoric, the report stated.

Hillary Clinton was also found to have engaged in harmful rhetoric, the report stated. The group included the instance in which Clinton insinuated that Muslim-Americans would have some knowledge of terror attacks. During the third presidential debate, she said that “the United States needs to work with Muslim communities who are on the front lines to identify and prevent attacks.”

The rise of white supremacist groups, the nonprofit notes, were also responsible for both types of hate. 

“White supremacist groups have gained momentum and resources, and have deeply influenced the corresponding uptick in both hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric that we have seen in just the last year,” according to the report. 

The majority of the acts documented in the report were fueled by anti-Muslim sentiment, which made up 94 percent of the hate violence and 96 percent of xenophobic rhetoric.

While empirical data on the connection between rhetoric and violence is scarce, the report mentions a study done by California State University, San Bernardino, which appeared to show a possible relationship between rhetoric and action.

A political statement reflecting tolerance towards Muslims was followed by a decline in hate crimes while an Islamophobic statement was followed by a sharp increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. 

The report’s findings parallel data on anti-Muslim crime from the FBI. But because these incidents are underreported ― largely due to mistrust of law enforcement in the community ― it mentions that the data should be treated as a sample, rather than a comprehensive account. 

Corey Saylor, director of the Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, echoed the sentiment in a recent interview. Saylor said that not only is there a lack of trust with law enforcement, but some people may be numb to the hate. 

“Many mosques, they get so many that they just don’t bother,” Saylor told NPR. “Somebody will have left a message on your voicemail saying they’re going to come and kill everybody, and people will just hit delete because they’ve become desensitized to it.”

The report points out that the election reflects many of these issues regarding race that the country is still confronting. 

“Freedom, equality, and liberty, however, are not abstractions,” the report says. “They are the irreducible ideals on which America was founded, and these promises, as always, are the only solution to repair the divided state of America.” 

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