Religious hate crime rare at UM, more common nationally

School of Communication
University of Miami

It is 2010 in America: the country that allows religious freedom in its First Amendment.

But how far has America come in accepting the religious viewpoints of others?

Every year since 1995, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has released bias motivation statistics on hate-crimes in America and religion is the second highest motivation for hate-crimes, only second to the visible category of race.

According to the FBI, a hate crime, also known as a bias crime, is a criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin.

Although for the past couple of years, Islam has been the major topic of religion in the United States because of our current world affairs, Islam has a relatively low amount of hate crimes.

In 2001, right after the recent terrorist attacks there was a surge of anti-Islam crimes sending the number up to 481, but other than that year, the number has stayed under 160 and dropped to 115 in the year 2008.

The fact that the number is dropping is good as long as the number of Muslims in America is increasing as well and the total ratio of hate-crimes against Muslim decreases. This is the case with Islam with the ratio of hate crimes dropping from 43.6 per every 100,000 Muslims in 2001 to 9.1 per every 100,000 Muslims in 2010.

Surprisingly, though, the religion that still has the most hate-crimes in America is Judaism. Judaism is the second-largest religion in America after Christianity, but even though it has been part of our history for decades there are still many anti-Semitic attitudes in the country.

In fact, the ratio of anti-Jewish crimes in America has risen since 2001.  In 2001 there were about as many anti-Jewish crimes as there were anti-Islam. There were 36.8 for every 100,000 Jews in America. But in 2008 that number has not decreased like it has for Islam, but rather it has increased becoming 39.4 for every 100,000 Jews.

These statistics reflect a national attitude toward religions, but they are also reflected in local statistics.

When looking back at hate crimes committed at the University of Miami, there are very few that are reported; but, in the last four years, there has been one instance of an anti-Islam hate crime and two incidents of anti-Jewish hate crimes reported. These accounts were covered at the time by the student newspaper, The Miami Hurricane.

University of Miami student Mohga Behairy, president of the Jewish and Muslim group on campus called JAM, was surprised at the amount of hate crime in the U.S. She said that she would have assumed Muslims received more intolerance. But having been born in raised in Miami, Behairy also took into account the culture she is from.

“I have never experienced a hate-crime, personally, but this is probably because I live in Miami and the culture here is so diverse. The University of Miami is an especially special place to go to school in terms of diversity,” she explained.

She did not know of any incidents within her past four years at the University of anti-Islam or anti-Jewish crimes.

Behairy would not know about these incidents if she looked at a crime report from the University of Miami. They simply do not show up. These incidents are only known about because they were published in the newspaper at the time and recognized by the university.

University President Donna Shalala sent an e-mail to every student condemning acts of hate on the University of Miami campus.

“The University of Miami has zero tolerance for acts of bigotry and harassment of a resident student staff member. Defacing University property with a swastika symbol is not only a crime, it is a hate crime and a deplorable attack on our community,” Shalala wrote.

She went on to say that the University of Miami Police Department were looking into these accounts. Yet, it was reported at the time that they could not be further investigated because the offensive symbols that were drawn were removed before the police showed up.

And this is also the reason that Behairy, or anybody else will see these statistics on any sort of crime report.

This lack of investigation makes it difficult to track with statistical accuracy the number of hate crimes that are actually occurring. For example, The Miami Hurricane wrote about an anti-Islam hate crime in 2007. That crime, like the one above, was not investigated fully because the students who found the damaged property cleaned things up before the police arrived.

In an annual security crime report given from the University of Miami hate crimes are tracked, but for 2007 no hate crimes are listed under the category of religion. This means that the hate crime against the Muslim Student Association was not reported in the statistics.

The same is true for the year 2009, in which The Miami Hurricane covered two incidents of religious hate crimes and those crimes were brought to the students’ attention through a letter from Shalala, yet they are not included in the statistics.

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