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In the weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission readied itself for an anti-Arab backlash. The EEOC issued press releases, held public meetings and posted guidance on its Web site to help employers guard against bias. It sought input from the Arab-American community on new problems its members were facing in the workplace. It even created a separate category for Sept. 11-related discrimination claims. And the agency did all this while scrambling to recover from the destruction of its New York office, which had been located on the 18th floor of 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed from fire on the evening of Sept. 11. The agency is still in temporary quarters on Varick Street. But the backlash turned out to be not so inevitable. Certainly, the number of bias claims filed by Arabs, Muslims and South Asians has increased in the past year. Yet it is difficult to conclude that the surge is cause for alarm or even statistically significant. In New York, which suffered the greatest loses in the Sept. 11 attacks and has a relatively large Arab population, just 30 such claims have been filed with the EEOC, behind Texas, California, Illinois, Florida and Arizona as of last month. Of the claims, 340 have been resolved, said EEOC spokeswoman Jennifer Kaplan. Slightly more than 60 percent of the resolved claims were closed because the agency found “no probable cause” for discrimination, which is consistent with overall statistics. The rest of the claims settled, went to court or went away for various reasons. All told, the 588 Sept. 11-related claims make up a miniscule portion of the EEOC’s annual intake of about 80,000 cases. Even advocates for Arab-Americans agree that the backlash in the workplace is not as bad as it could have been. “I wouldn’t say it’s a calamity,” said Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, D.C., adding that he views the gravity of the situation as “somewhere in-between ‘no problem’ and ‘the sky is falling.’” Ibish also gave the agency credit for having handled a difficult situation “extremely well.” “The many different things the EEOC has done reflect an understanding that this is a particular problem created by a discrete phenomenon,” he said. Still, discrimination claims filed by Muslims and Arabs are definitely up. Complaints of workplace related religious discrimination not necessarily tied to Sept. 11 that have been filed with the EEOC by Muslims have more than doubled since Sept. 11 — to 655 from 289 in the prior period. No similar spike has occurred with any other religion. New York’s Division of Human Rights has had 83 claims filed by Muslims and Arabs post-Sept. 11, also about double the typical rate, according to Denise Ellison, the division’s deputy commissioner of public affairs. Complaints have also remained consistently higher throughout the entire post-Sept. 11 period. “There was no rash of complaints right after Sept. 11,” Ellison said. Rather, “they have been scattered throughout the year.” RACIAL PROFILING Complaints are not limited to employees. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has had more than 60 reports of racial profiling by airlines in which passengers were removed from planes solely on the basis of their appearance. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed six suits against airlines accusing them of civil rights violations. In one typical case, Michael Dasrath, a J.P. Morgan Chase analyst and U.S. citizen born in Guyana, South America, was flying out of Newark to Florida to go to a New Year’s Eve party. He had just taken his seat in first class when he noticed a woman with a small dog glaring at him and several passengers nearby. He heard the woman tell the captain, “Those brown-skinned men are behaving suspiciously.” Moments later, he and two other men were forced off the plane. Such incidents continue to occur, said Reginald T. Shuford, an ACLU lawyer who filed three of the lawsuits. He noted that in each case, the airlines put the ejected passengers on the next flight out. “It’s not about security,” he said, “It’s about accommodating the prejudices of their customers.” HATE CRIMES The continued trickling in of complaints of discrimination by employees and customers stands in stark contrast to the pattern of hate crimes directed at Arabs, Muslims and South Asians after Sept. 11. Ibish said his group recorded over 700 incidents of violence or threats, including seven or eight murders, in the first two months after the events. But the number of such incidents then dropped off “rather sharply, back to ‘normal’ levels, for want of a better word,” he said. He attributed the sharp decline to the passage of time, coupled with the government’s swift crackdown on such behavior. The war in Afghanistan also contributed to the drop-off, he said, by turning people’s attention and anger overseas. The reason behind the rise in claims of employment discrimination poses more of a conundrum. Ibish surmised that an increased acceptance in the popular culture of the vilification of Arabs and Muslims sends a signal that such prejudices are excusable. For instance, he said, when television preacher Pat Robertson publicly stated his view that Islam is an inherently violent religion, CNN’s reaction was not to reject the notion as preposterous on its face, but to hold a debate. The recent “excesses” of the Bush administration have not helped, Ibish said, pointing in particular to newly enacted immigration-related policies, such as alien registrations and secret detentions and immigration hearings of Arab-Americans. “They are telling Americans, ‘Don’t discriminate, but we will,’” he said. Although the vast majority of Americans renounce discrimination, at the same time, people are scared, he said. Peter Panken, an employment lawyer at Epstein Becker & Green, said a heightened sensitivity on the part of employees may also contribute to the increase. When something bad happens to employees, they ask themselves, “Why me?” he said. Post-Sept. 11, Arabs and Muslims are more likely to attribute the reason to their status as a protected class, he added. Overall, Americans have a lot to be proud of, Ibish said. “It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine a much worse backlash,” he said.

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