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Soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, much was made in the media of a perceived upswing of discrimination against Muslims and Arabs. “State and federal civil rights agencies have been flooded with complaints from Muslims,” wrote The New York Times on April 25. “The backlash against Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is not over,” warned The Washington Post on March 4. With five lawsuits filed in three states last week by the American Civil Liberties Union, all alleging racial profiling of Arabs and Asians on airplanes, Americans could be forgiven for thinking that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had turned the country into a nation of vigilantes and bigots. But 10 months after the events, the official numbers tell a less alarming story. While there certainly was a hike in such bias claims since September, it’s hard to say that the increase was serious or even statistically significant. Since the attacks, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has tracked what it calls “backlash” complaints, using a range of criteria to identify claims that cite Sept. 11 as a triggering event. These criteria include race, religion or national origin. In New Jersey, which has a large Arab community, only 11 such complaints were filed with the EEOC as of May 7. In New York, that number was 23. Across the entire country, claims numbered 488. A consistent 60 percent of EEOC claims are found to have “no reasonable cause,” the commission’s records show. That seems to be holding true for the post-Sept. 11 claims. EEOC spokeswoman Jennifer Kaplan notes that of the 196 Sept. 11 cases the EEOC has disposed of so far, 120 were closed with “no cause” findings. Fifty-one were settled or became full-fledged lawsuits, and the remaining matters disappeared for miscellaneous reasons. New Jersey’s Division of Civil Rights has recorded a similarly small number of claims: seven, all employment-related, out of a yearly caseload of about 1,300. “The absolute maximum may be around 20, and that’s based on claims on their face that might have some relationship” to Sept. 11, says acting director Jeffrey Burstein, whose agency also looks at housing and customer service. Lawyers who may have expected more discrimination cases have been largely disappointed. Jed Marcus, a partner at the employers’ defense firm of Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman in Roseland, N.J., says the firm’s 54 attorneys have only one case in which post-Sept. 11 anti-Muslim backlash is cited as a cause of action. “If there is a rising tide, we’re gonna know it,” he says, referring to his firm’s large labor and employment law practice. “Basically, we’re not seeing anything.” Even advocates for American Arabs admit that the backlash is not as bad as many feared. “It could have been a lot worse, couldn’t it?” says Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Jennifer Ching of the Immigrant Workers’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey says in an e-mail, “My project has not received any higher number of calls involving discrimination against South Asians, Muslims, etc. I did field several calls in September, but have not gotten any calls recently.” It was a similar story at the American Friends Service Committee. Certainly, claims of discrimination against those perceived to be Muslims or Arabs have increased. For instance: � Across the country, 497 claims were filed with the EEOC alleging workplace discrimination on the basis of Muslim religion between Sept. 11 and May 7. The number for the same period in the prior year was 193. Numbers for other religions held steady. Using the same parameters the EEOC used to find 488 claims linked to Sept. 11 in the past 10 months, that number in the same period of the prior year was only 193. The difference represents a rise of 153 percent. � There were more than 60 reports of “airline racism,” according to the AADC, in which passengers were expelled from planes based on their looks. But the AADC received only 23 other cases of “denial of service,” where customers were discriminated against. � Most seriously, the AADC recorded more than 600 incidents of violence or threats. When placed in the context of the entire population, however, those numbers do not represent a sea change in American attitudes favoring racism, Marcus says. “The adult population is somewhere around 190 million people, and what they claim is an uptick [of 295 job claims]. I don’t consider that significant in terms of the large scope of things,” he says. “As a statistic, it tells you nothing about the character of this nation.” In fact, the character of the nation is in relatively good shape, according to AADC’s Ibish. “The country need not hang its head in shame,” he says. Although the most spectacular statistic is the one measuring violence and threats, those incidents declined dramatically after the initial reaction to Sept. 11. “The rate of hate crimes has dropped back to ‘normal’ levels, if I can use that term,” says Ibish. It is employment claims that continue to be the problem. The AADC’s team of lawyers, which refers plausible cases to the EEOC, has seen a heightened stream of claims since Sept. 11 that shows no sign of diminishing, he says. Of course, there is a big difference between successful claims filed and unreported events in the day-to-day lives of American Muslims and Arabs. While the statistics may not indicate high-levels of hostility to their communities, the cases that do exist — coupled with changes in the federal government’s law enforcement and immigration policies — have left many Muslims feeling under siege. “In today’s environment, if you’re a Muslim you probably wouldn’t want to call a whole lot of attention to yourself,” says Andrew Dwyer, a Newark, N.J., solo practitioner who specializes in plaintiffs’ labor cases. He poses this parallel: Since the state Law Against Discrimination was amended to protect gays and lesbians in 1992, there have been few verdicts favoring plaintiffs who have sued under it. “You either have to conclude there’s no discrimination against people — which I think is unlikely –or they’re not going to feel comfortable making an issue out of it.” The anecdotal evidence of discrimination is disturbing. One of the ACLU’s five airline suits focuses on the experience of Michael Dasrath, a J.P. Morgan Chase analyst trying to fly out of Newark to reach a New Year’s Eve party in Tampa, Fla. Dasrath, a U.S. citizen from Guyana, South America, who has lived almost his entire life in Brooklyn, had a first-class seat on the Continental Airlines flight when a white woman “carrying a small dog” into the coach section complained to flight attendants that Dasrath and two other “brown-skinned men” were “behaving suspiciously,” the suit states. Dasrath was forced off the plane by an embarrassed flight crew after the captain refused to take off with him on board. He was put on a different plane, but on arrival found that the airline had delayed his luggage and “torn apart and destroyed” a computer he had packed as a gift for his sons. Dasrath is claiming damages under federal civil rights law and the New Jersey LAD (Law Against Discrimination). Rahsaan Johnson, a Continental spokesman, declines to comment beyond saying, “We have a strong policy and a longstanding policy against discrimination in any form.”

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