Politics & Policy

Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes Are Not the Threat Loretta Lynch Is Making Them Out to Be

Attorney general Loretta Lynch (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Like Newton’s or Mendel’s or Rothman’s, an incontrovertible law seems to govern the reaction to acts of Islamic terrorism in the U.S. It runs something like this: If the perpetrators of terrorism are Muslims, the most pressing problem American authorities face is not Islamic terrorism; it’s anti-Muslim rhetoric/crime. Thus, as the nation reeled from the deadliest act of Islamic terrorism on American soil since September 11, Loretta Lynch declared her “greatest fear” to be the “incredibly disturbing rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric” in the U.S., and promised that her Justice Department would “take action” (though how, precisely, is a matter of dispute).

But just how common are crimes against Muslims?

According to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report, there were 1,014 hate-crime incidents motivated by religious bias in 2014. Of those, 154 — 15.2 percent — were anti-Islamic, a slight uptick from 2013’s 135 incidents (13.1 percent).

How alarming are 154 anti-Islamic crimes? Consider this: Last year saw 609 anti-Jewish incidents, and anti-Jewish attacks accounted for 60 percent of religiously motivated hate-crime incidents. This would be uninteresting if the Jewish population in the United States were four times the Muslim population — but it’s not. In fact, the Jewish population (6.8 million) is only about 1/3 larger than the Muslim population (4.5 million, extrapolating from various estimates). That means that not only are anti-Muslim crimes lower in the aggregate; they happen at a lower rate per capita, i.e., There is one anti-Muslim crime for every 29,221 American Muslims; there is one anti-Jewish crime for every 11,166 Jews.​

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Where is the outcry about the epidemic of anti-Jewish violence?

Of course, just because anti-Muslim hate-crime incidents are comparatively few in a given year does not mean that they are rare historically. Those concerned about the ever-present threat of an anti-Muslim “backlash” constantly point out that, prior to 2001, anti-Muslim hate crimes numbered about two dozen annually.

#share#But, in fact, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been comparatively rare since 2001, too, even if they have not receded to pre-2001 levels. The 154 incidents in 2014 are in line with the historical, post-2001 data, which shows an average of 139 incidents per year, with a low of 105 in 2008 and a high of 160 in 2010. Even in 2010, when numbers spiked, anti-Islamic attacks accounted for less than 2.5 percent of all hate-crime incidents.

RELATED: Dispelling the ‘Few Extremists’ Myth — the Muslim World Is Awash in Hate

And in 2001 itself? There were 481 anti-Islamic incidents — but that accounted, still, for less than 5 percent of all hate-crime incidents, and was still less than half of the anti-Jewish incidents that year.

More and more it seems that this administration has trumpeted a fabricated threat because it is unwilling to face up to a very real one.

Conservatives have been chastised for their condemnation of Loretta Lynch’s remarks. Writing shortly after last month’s attacks in Paris, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf preemptively defended the attorney general: “Urging people against turning their anger against innocent people is not an unserious priority. It is a reasonable, pragmatic, decent act.”

With that no reasonable person is in dispute. Every threat and assault committed against a Muslim on account of his or her religion is a reprehensible act. One hate crime is too many.

But Lynch and her ilk go further, playing down the threat of Islamic terrorism while playing up the threat American Muslims face from their own countrymen. That is a narrative that has no basis in fact. The notion that American Muslims face a unique, outsized threat of violence is simply not true, while the notion that the Islamic State is far from “contained” is tragically obvious.

More and more it seems that this administration has trumpeted a fabricated threat because it is unwilling to face up to a very real one.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute. 

Editor’s Note: This piece originally stated that Jews were “four times more likely” than Muslims to be victims of hate crimes. That number failed to account for victimization per capita. The revision above reflects this change. Also, a comparison to “anti-white” hate-crime incidents has been excised.

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