US prosecutors to combat rising anti-Muslim hatred
Top prosecutors from 11 US states are launching a campaign to address the alarming anti-Muslim backlash in the wake of recent terror attacks, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
The department said local prosecutors and law enforcement would team up with community leaders across the United States to hold public discussions "to address the backlash against Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian Americans following the tragic terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino".
The events will also roll out the Justice Department's new "Combating Religious Discrimination Today" initiative, which is "designed to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes", according to the department.
"These events underscore our ongoing commitment to safeguard the civil rights of every American - including Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian Americans, who are so often the targets of threats on the basis of their appearance or religion," said Attorney-General Loretta Lynch.
The Justice Department mentioned a number of recent anti-Muslim incidents that included a man who pleaded guilty to opening fire outside a mosque in Connecticut, and another who threatened to bomb two mosques and shoot worshippers in Florida, among many others.
The department also said that it filed suit against the city of Des Plaines, Illinois, for refusing to rezone a vacant office building to be used as a mosque, a move seen as discriminatory by the city.
Since the 11 September attacks, the Justice Department has investigated more than 1,000 cases involving acts of violence, threats, assaults, vandalisms and arson targeting Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and South Asians, and those perceived to be members of these groups.
However, Arab and Muslim Americans have reported a sharp increase in discrimination, harassment and violence against them in the past year.
Republican presidential candidates have played a large role in stoking anti-Muslim sentiments during their campaigns, not least front-runner Donald Trump, who has called for banning Muslims from entering the US.
According to exit polls conducted by the Associated Press and Edison Research on 15 March in five states, around a third of Republican primary voters supported Trump's Muslim ban.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson compared current anti-Muslim sentiment to the anti-communist "Red Scare" of the 1940s and 1950s, suggesting that divisive statements by Republican presidential candidates were to blame.
"Efforts and dialogue that have the effect of vilifying American Muslims are counter to our homeland security interest," said the internal security chief.