Discrimination and hatred against Muslim and Sikh-Americans continues to be a legacy of the September 11 attack, even ten years on, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said Wednesday.
“We must reject any suggestion that every Muslim is a terrorist or that every terrorist is a Muslim,” Cole said. “As we have seen time and again — from Oklahoma City to the recent attacks in Oslo, Norway — no religion or ethnicity has a monopoly on terror.”
The comments came at conference hosted by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on discrimination in the post-Sept. 11 era. The conference, held at George Washington University in D.C., featured panelists from the government as well as civil rights and religious organizations.
One Sikh advocate gave the government a “mixed review” on addressing discrimination.
“The issues that have come out of 9/11 are still with us today,” said Amardeep Singh, the director of programs for the Sikh Coalition. He said there have been good government initiatives since Sept. 11 to combat discrimination, but said there was “public conduct that sent a mixed message to our communities” — such as special registration for immigrants from Muslim countries and unlawful detention in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
“This is an ugly stain upon our country, it’s not American,” Singh said. He said he hoped to eventually get an apology from the government for that conduct. “We’re nowhere near the political environment needed for an apology, but I hope we’ll get one.”
Ralph Boyd, who served as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, recalled that DOJ “didn’t have a template” for dealing with the “multitude of issues” which they had to face.
Boyd said DOJ had to develop a response “on the fly,” and the government had to make a very clear statement against discrimination immediately.
“The first message we wanted to convey… was to encourage the American people not to tolerate difference and diversity… but rather to embrace them as being us and part of us,” Boyd said. Boyd said it was important to remind people that Muslims were victims and first responders during the Sept. 11 attacks.
Boyd said that the good news was that the bulk of the criminal activity occurred in the first few weeks following Sept. 11, adding that a chart of discriminatory activity would show a “huge cliff” drop-off after 2001.
“Now that doesn’t mean the show is over and as we all know our work continued then and our work continues today,” Boyd said.
James Zogby, director of the Arab American Institute, recalled the threats he received after the attacks.
“Since 9/11, three people who have threatened my life have gone to jail,” Zogby said, adding that he “wasn’t proud of it” but was glad that the system was in place to protect him.
Zogby also brought up the anti-Muslim law enforcement training programs that were hosted by the FBI.
“One of the things that’s bothered me — and I know we’ve raised this with the Department of Justice, we’ve raised this with Homeland Security — are the trainers that are going around to FBI offices and agencies in the government, regional offices of Homeland Security — going around actually conducting programs on Islam or on immigrant communities in America, who are part of this industry of hate, whose job it is to defame communities, they make a living off of this,” Zogby said.
“Hell of a way to make a job, I guess that’s what you do. They’re legitimizing hate, and we have to deal with that one as well. It’s just something that cannot stand.”