To be clear, authorities do not know what motivated someone—described as a male in a black sweatshirt—to smash a glass bottle in the face of a Muslim woman on the University of Washington campus on the evening of November 15.
The Washington chapter of the Center for American-Islamic Relations has been clear on that point. The group has nonetheless raised the alarm over the attack, which left the woman—who was wearing a headscarf at the time—with heavy bruising and a concussion. “We really want to make sure this is taken seriously,” CAIR-WA’s executive director Arsalan Bukhari told Weekly reporter Sara Bernard in a recent report.
The vigilance that CAIR-WA is showing toward attacks on members of its community is entirely understandable. One need only review this year’s campaign rhetoric to understand why members of a faith community of 1.6 billion people—nearly one in four on the planet—might feel singled out as pariahs in our society. When a presidential candidate publicly states that a person should be denied entry into the country based on the God they worship—which the record irrefutably shows Donald Trump said—then it’s hardly a great leap in logic to suggest that hostility is brewing around the people who practice that faith both outside and within our borders. And indeed, from fliers passed out in California calling for Muslim genocide to the smashing last week of a sign at a Redmond mosque, there have been plenty of explicit acts of hate against Muslims that should put to rest any doubts about the existence of such animus in America today.
And yet, like clockwork, any concern shown for our Muslim neighbors in the face of bigotry is dismissed as wild histrionics by those who, for whatever reason, believe that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States are a figment of the liberal imagination. We have seen such sentiment in our comments section and in response to social-media posts. Most commonly, we are accused of enacting an anti-Trump agenda that seeks to discredit the incoming president by associating him with the ugliest manifestations of the white nationalist movement he energized (whether by accident or on purpose).
While this argument is problematic, it must be acknowledged that some statistics lend credence to the idea that, in Seattle at least, anti-Muslim hate crimes are not a growing issue. Specifically, as we reported last week, the Seattle Police Department’s lead hate-crime detective has reported no recent uptick in hate crimes in the wake of the election. There is also the fact that in some cases, like the attack at UW, a motive can be difficult to nail down. That reasonable doubt can be cast on cases in which the victims of violence just happen to be Muslim.
So with these facts acknowledged, the question we face as a newspaper covering Seattle is this: By reporting on these incidents as possible hate crimes, and by discussing them in the context of our election of a president who has made Islam-bashing a trademark, are we getting bamboozled into becoming complicit in some grand propaganda campaign that seeks to sow fear in those who oppose the current administration? We have in fact thought about this very question. And we feel secure in our conclusion that we are not.
Rather, we would consider it a journalistic failure, a failure to our readers, to ignore criminal acts, community fears, and political actions that speak to what is so clearly an emboldened anti-Islam bloc in our country. Seattle statistics aside, the FBI reports that 2015 saw the highest number of anti-Muslim attacks in the U.S. since the time directly after 9/11. The 257 attacks recorded by the FBI marked a 67 percent increase over 2014. These statistics can’t be ignored. Nor, despite the discomfort it may cause people who voted for the man, can the pronouncements of Donald Trump. Indeed, were we to accept the Trump party line that there is no connection between his talk—of the immigration ban, of Muslim registries, of infiltrating mosques—and people attacking Muslims, that would be the very definition of mindless, regurgitated propaganda.
None of this should be taken to say that in reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes, we abandon our journalistic scruples. We still fact-check, verify, scrutinize, and follow up. But at the end of the day, we will do our best to err on the side of journalistic vigilance in the face of a very real hate, for the simple reason that not doing so is not an option.