Over the recent Fourth of July weekend, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) interviewed attendees of the 47th annual Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention about their experiences in dealing with "Islamophobia." Shortly afterwards, on July 6, CAIR called on the FBI to investigate an act of arson at a Georgia mosque, saying that hate crimes were increasing because of a "vocal minority in our society promoting anti-Muslim bigotry." The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) referred to it as one of the "incidents of Islamophobia [that] are on the rise in this country." However, police later arrested a Muslim suspect.
As Daniel Pipes has documented for years, Islamist organizations in the West are quick to label crimes as anti-Muslim hate crimes as part of their effort to make Muslims feel under attack and to paint themselves as Muslims' protectors. For example, immediately following the Fort Hood shooting, CAIR asked Muslims to respond by donating to it. "We need financial help to meet these crises and push back against those who seek to score political points off the Muslim community in the wake of the Fort Hood tragedy," the fundraising pitch read. To no one's surprise, an anti-Muslim backlash did not ensue.
Cutting through the propaganda requires understanding the ways in which crimes are misrepresented as hate crimes — and why. There are two main culprits to consider: Muslims who stage fake hate crimes and Islamist organizations that seek to exploit them.
Why would anyone fabricate a hate crime against himself or his mosque? History indicates a pair of common motives.
In some cases, the faker has an obvious political goal of demonstrating the supposed prejudice against Muslims. A classic example occurred in 2008, when a 19-year-old female Muslim student named Safia Z. Jilani at Elmhurst College in Illinois claimed that she had been pistol-whipped in a campus restroom by a male who then wrote "Kill the Muslims" on the mirror. The alleged attack occurred just hours after she spoke at a "demonstration called to denounce the anti-Islamic slurs and swastika she had discovered … in her locker." A week later, however, authorities determined that none of this had taken place and she was charged with filing a false police report.
Similar incidents recently unfolded overseas. A Muslim community leader in London named Noor Ramjanally reported that he had been kidnapped by members of the quasi-fascist British National Party; he also said that he had received death threats and his home had been firebombed. His claim received widespread attention, causing him to boast, "I have got the whole UK Muslim community behind me now." Ramjanally later was arrested for faking the crime. Furthermore, last year in Australia, a prominent imam, Taj Din al-Hilali, told police that his mosque had been vandalized. When confronted with the security tape, which shows that he is the one who kicked in the door, he insisted that it had been manipulated.
In other cases, individuals are driven to fabricate hate crimes not for political reasons, but to cover up more mundane criminal activity. Take the bizarre story of Musa and Essa Shteiwi, Ohio men who received media attention in 2006 after reporting several attacks on their store, the third being with a Molotov cocktail. A fourth "attack" then occurred, when an explosion was set off and badly burned the father and son, injuries from which they later died. CAIR highlighted it as a hate crime. However, investigators found that the two had set off the explosion themselves after they poured gasoline in preparation for another staged incident and one of them foolishly lit a cigarette. The pair had hired a former employee to carry out the previous attacks as part of an insurance fraud scheme.
Now let us turn to the motives of groups such as CAIR for exaggerating the prevalence of hate crimes against Muslims.
First and foremost, Islamists try to undermine and delegitimize their opponents by placing blame upon them for hate crimes. For example, a 2008 CAIR report attributes an alleged increase in hate crimes — "alleged" because the claimed increase is wholly contradicted by FBI statistics — to "Islamophobic rhetoric in the 2008 presidential election" and people who are "profiting by smearing Islam." Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is specifically rebuked for titling a campaign ad "Jihad."
CAIR's 2009 report takes aim at the anti-Islamist film Obsession, a bête noir among promoters of the hate crime narrative. To cite one example of this approach, on September 26, 2008, law enforcement was notified that a 10-year-old Muslim girl at the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton had been attacked with pepper spray. A member of the board immediately attributed it to advertisements for the documentary. However, the FBI found no trace of chemicals in the mosque or on the alleged victim; the pepper spray was discovered inside the mosque four days later. It concluded that there was no evidence that a hate crime had occurred.
Islamist groups also use the fear created by their publicizing of alleged hate crimes and anti-Muslim sentiment to try to mobilize the community into opposing counterterrorism programs. As Daniel Pipes has noted, CAIR started down this path a decade and a half ago, when it described the prosecution of World Trade Center bomb plotter Omar Abdel Rahman and the arrest of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook as hate crimes.
Similar tactics remain in play. In February 2009, the American Muslim Task Force and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) condemned the FBI after a story broke about the use of an informant in a mosque. They accused the government of an anti-Muslim conspiracy, saying that the informant was paid to "instigate violent rhetoric in mosques," and threatened to end outreach efforts with the FBI. Then, in October 2009, a Michigan-based, pro-terrorist imam named Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who had been preparing his followers to wage war against the U.S. government, opened fire when the FBI tried to arrest him for criminal activity. Abdullah died in the shootout, but CAIR and the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) are attempting to attribute his demise to foul play.
These groups assume the worst of the FBI's intentions and try to make the Muslim community feel as if it is threatened by its own government committing state-sanctioned hate crimes. True to form, attendees of the ISNA convention this past July were told how the FBI supposedly is targeting Muslims and advised that they should not talk to FBI personnel without a lawyer.
In summary, while real anti-Muslim hate crimes deserve the harshest of condemnation, claims about anti-Muslim hate crimes always should be taken with a grain of salt. CAIR and other Islamist groups thrive off of convincing Muslims that they are under constant assault from roving bigots and an oppressive state. Individual Muslims then feel empowered to fabricate hate crimes in order to paint themselves as victims.
For Islamists, the fear, isolation, and suffering of the Muslim community are nothing more than weapons to enhance their own prestige and pursue their political agenda.
Ryan Mauro is the founder of WorldThreats.com, national security advisor to the Christian Action Network, and an intelligence analyst with the Asymmetric Warfare and Intelligence Center (AWIC). This article was sponsored by Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.