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Post-Sept. 11 backlash violence replaced by more subtle forms of
discrimination, advocates say
By Deborah Kong, Associated Press
Reports of beatings, stabbings, shootings and other backlash violence after Sept. 11 have slowed to a trickle, only to be replaced by complaints of subtler -- and harder to prove -- forms of discrimination at work, at school and in everyday interactions.
Advocates who track such reports say they are hearing more from people like Farrah Spencer. She says her boss and co-workers started asking her questions just after the terrorist attacks such as "Why do you guys hate America?"
This spring, she received a letter at work from a friend in Saudi Arabia, then two days later lost her job as office manager at a venture capital firm in New York City. She believes it was because she is Muslim and Arab-American. Company president Steven Stull says her position was eliminated due to budget cuts -- not religion.
Many other workplace discrimination claims also are a matter of debate. Employees are convinced they are the victims of prejudice even as employers say layoffs are due to economic cutbacks, performance or behavior problems.
Whatever the reason, groups that track such complaints say they are far higher than in previous years.
The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created a new, internal tracking code specifically for Sept. 11-related charges. About 600 charges have been filed by people who believe they were fired or harassed due to backlash. Religious discrimination charges from Muslims have nearly tripled from the same period a year ago, said EEOC spokesman David Grinberg.
"Anger at those responsible for the terrorist attacks should not be misdirected against individuals in the workplace because of their religion, their ethnicity or their country of origin," Grinberg said.
In about the first five months following the Sept. 11 attacks, at least 17 percent of the 1,717 backlash reports the Council on American-Islamic Relations received were about physical assault and property damage.
Between March 15 and mid-August, CAIR said it received 345 reports, mostly alleging employment discrimination, harassment by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and FBI, and airport profiling. The group has also noted a recent increase in custody cases in which non-Muslim parents say they don't want their children raised in Muslim homes.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which established a hot line for backlash complaints, received 580 calls before Jan. 25. Since then, it has only gotten a handful a month, said spokeswoman Nathea Lee.
"The violence has now transformed itself into employment discrimination," said William Haddad, executive director of the Arab American Bar Association in Illinois. "Murder, arson, defacements and attacks -- blatant acts of brutality -- have been replaced with conduct in the workplace or in public accommodations."
Among the reports advocacy groups have received:
-- An Arab-American taxi driver said he was questioned by New York City police after a passenger filed a complaint saying he made anti-U.S. statements. The driver later offered paperwork to prove he wasn't working at the time the passenger claimed he made the comments.
-- A Lebanese engineer in Chicago was fired shortly after his employer asked him whether he had traveled to a terrorist training ground in Lebanon during a visit with his family last summer.
-- A Sikh cardiologist and nine other family members and friends were searched each time they boarded an airplane during a recent vacation. The doctor says his group was singled out because they are of Indian descent and some wore turbans as articles of their faith.
With Sept. 11 anniversary observations scheduled around the country, some fear a new wave of backlash against Muslims, Arab-Americans, South Asians and Sikhs.
"With the notion or sentiment of patriotism, particularly around events
that will take place in New York City remembering 9-11, that's going to
spur emotions from people," said Sin Yen Ling, staff attorney at the Asian
American Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Sometimes those emotions may be