As I write this, the world is still learning basic details about Anders Behring Breivik, the man who has confessed to carrying out the horrific terrorist attack that killed dozens in Norway. But it’s already clear that he swam in a swamp of hatred. He’s a white supremacist, a former member of Norway’s ultra-nationalist Progress Party, and a loyal reader of anti-Muslim hate-blogs in the United States.
For many years, Human Rights First has worked to combat hate crime in the United States and Europe. Across Europe, ascendant ultra-nationalist political parties have both created and capitalized on anti-Muslim, antisemitic, and anti-immigrant fervor—fervor that undermines the saftey of minorities. Using our patented ten-point plan as a map, we’ve worked with European governments to institute systems to prevent hate crime. In some cases, government officials have been extremely receptive to our proposals. In others, they’ve downplayed the threat of violent hate crime, a stance that will be more difficult to sustain after Norway’s tragedy.
The United States has strong hate crimes laws and is generally a model of a harmonious pluralistic society. But anti-Muslim bigotry has become alarmingly common. Dozens of proposed mosques and community centers, most famously in Lower Manhattan, have run into resistance. In many states, “anti-Sharia” laws target an imaginary threat while perpetuating stereotypes. Meanwhile a preacher promotes Qu’ran burning, and presidential candidates compete to see who can be the most anti-Islam. Our approach is to counter lies with truth, and ignorance with information. To that end, we recently organized “Faith Shared,” a national event that brought Imams into churches to read from the Qu’ran. (See below.)
Not every bigot is violent, and not every act of violence has roots in bigotry, but the terrorist attacks in Norway reminds yet again that hatred can—and far too frequently does—lead to violence.
President and CEO
Human Rights First
Not something you see every day: an Imam reading from the Qu’ran…in a church.
But on Sunday, June 26th, thousands of Americans saw just that. Human Rights First organized “Faith Shared” with the Interfaith Alliance to counter anti-Muslim bigotry, which has led to misunderstanding, mistrust, and, in some cases, violence. We sought to send a message of respect to not just American Muslims but also Muslims abroad, hoping to correct the misconception that Americans are hostile to Muslims and Islam. Dozens of churches of various denominations in 26 states participated, and, according to reports from across the country, the show of support for Muslims was a hit with churchgoers.
The National Cathedral in Washington D.C participated, and the event there was the subject a prominent story in the Washington Post, which quoted a member of the congregation: “It was even more moving than the normal service here on Sunday. It felt like we were a part of something much bigger and much older.”
The sexual assault case against Dominque Strauss-Kahn prompted thousands of news stories, and many of them touched on, of all things, the U.S. asylum system. That’s because his accuser allegedly lied on her asylum application.
We provide pro-bono legal representation to refugees, so we see firsthand just how difficult it is to receive asylum. The truth—as explained here—is that the system goes to lengths to prevent undeserving applicants from slipping through. It’s much more likely that people fleeing persecution fail to get the protection they desperately need.
Misconceptions help to fuel anti-refugee legislation like the bill now making its way through the House. The “Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2011″ would expand the Department of Homeland Security’s already sweeping power to lock up asylum-seekers and other immigrants. It would lead to prolonged detention for people who have already suffered greatly. We’re working to defeat the bill.
Even as government officials hold discussions with representatives of civil society, the Bahraini regime continues to persecute activists. That’s the central finding of our new report, a follow up to our April report that examined government abuses during earlier stages of the crackdown.
HRF’s Brian Dooley, the author of the new report, traveled to Bahrain to meet with human rights activists. They provided first-hand accounts of government brutality, including sexual abuse and other forms of torture. “Human rights defenders with whom we spoke are wary that the dialogue is anything more than elaborate play-acting for the international community’s benefit,” says Dooley. ”Many are asking that the U.S. government rapidly assess its effectiveness, and publicly state whether the dialogue is real.”
The United States should press the Bahraini regime to release protestors from jail, stop expelling students, and address anti-Shiite persecution. At the same time, the United States should cut off aid from military units and security forces that have committed abuses. The United States has leverage. It should use it.
Foreign Policy cites our report on the Bahraini regime’s abuses
Our call for UN action on Syria gets coverage in the Los Angeles Times
USA Today quotes HRF’s Lori Adams on asylum law and the DSK case
The Washington Post cites our landmark report on deaths in U.S. custody.