Originally published in the Sn Antonio Express-News, April 17, 2004
by Susan Ives
A man claiming to be a journalist called Sarwat Husain, she told me, and tried to give her a hard time about the string of recent arsons that targeted Muslim-run convenience stores.
“I bet that the guy who did it is one of your people,” he taunted.
“I just heard from the police and they have captured a suspect,” she replied. “You are right. He is one of our people.”
She could hear his excited scribbling on the other end of the line.
“He is an American,” she continued. “One of our people.”
In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, hate crimes against American Muslims — our people — increased 17-fold. There were five murders in the waning months of 2001, four of them convenience store owners.
One was nearby, in Dallas. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Waqar Hasan, 46, left his native Pakistan in 1989. His father and a brother had been kidnapped a few years before; earlier in the year he had been held at gunpoint.
Hasan, his wife and four daughters came to Texas for a safer life.
On the night of Sept. 15, 2001, someone walked into his small grocery store in a blue-collar neighborhood and shot him in the head.
The killer has never been caught, and you won’t find this murder listed in the FBI’s hate crime statistics. They can’t prove that the killing was motivated by hate.
But the Muslims in Texas know. And they are worried that as the war in Iraq intensifies, the hate is starting again.
Last month, teenage vandals broke windows and scrawled ethnic slurs on the Islamic Center in Lubbock. The wife of the imam of a Maryland mosque was assaulted last week. A 12-year-old Florida girl was attacked by four boys who pinned her to the ground, hit her in the face with a belt, snatched off her head scarf and called her “Osama.”
And in San Antonio, someone doused four Muslim-run convenience stores with gasoline and set them on fire.
Hate crimes are violent acts against people, property or organizations because of the group to which they belong or identify with.
According to the American Psychological Association, only a fraction of hate crimes — about 5 percent — are committed by members of organized hate groups.
What APA did find is that hate crimes are committed by people who have been given permission to hate. Society, either explicitly or implicitly, sanctions attacks on certain groups. Around the dinner table and the office coffeepot. From the pulpit. In the media.
The Council on American Islamic Relations reported that a couple of weeks ago a radio talk show host in Washington said: “I don’t wanna say we should kill ’em all (Muslims), but unless there’s reform (within Islam), there aren’t a lot of other solutions that work in the ground struggle for survival.”
The attacks may start as verbal, but as Gandhi said, “Thoughts become words — words become deeds.”
APA also points out that hate crimes are especially traumatic as they strike at the core of the victim’s identity.
“Intense feelings of vulnerability, anger and depression, physical ailments and learning problems, and difficult interpersonal relations — all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder — can be brought on by a hate crime,” they note.
And these ailments can strike the entire targeted community, just not the victims.
We all have a role preventing hate crimes in San Antonio. We can intervene when we hear hateful speech. We can let our Muslim neighbors know, with a smile or a kind word, that they are welcomed in our city.
And we can educate ourselves. Even the Express-News got it wrong last week when it identified the victims of the arsons as Arab Americans. They were all originally from India or Pakistan — not, the last time I checked, Arab nations.
These are our people. Every one of them.