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Arab americans and the criminal justice system

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Arab Americans and the criminal justice system
The term Arab American has always come accompanied by some degree of confusion and ambiguousness. Who exactly are Arab Americans? Do they identify with a particular religion? Do we consider them migrants, or illegal immigrants? If we delve further into the question, how have the attacks of 9/11 impacted the Arab-Americans living in the United States? Has the number of the population increased, or decreased? Have new laws been set into place, particularly for this community? Where do they sit on the criminal justice system? The more ambiguous the term, the more the amount of questions.
This paper seeks to answer some of the above queries through an in-depth research. It will try to clarify the term ‘Arab Americans’, and throw light on how the treatment towards the people of the community has been affected since 9/11, and also in the recent context of the rise of the ISIS.
Arab American – the term
According to the US Census Bureau, Arab Americans are people who, in the census survey conducted in 2000, listed their home country as a predominantly Arab-speaking country. Of all the countries that were listed as homelands, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Syria were the most common CITATION Kay06 l 16393 (Kayyali, 2006).
The migration of the Arabs to America began in the 1800s CITATION Ara15 l 16393 (Arab American Institute Staff, n.d.). Since the 2000s, there has been a 47% increase in the population of Arab Americans in the United States CITATION Bro12 l 16393 (Brown, Guskin, & Mitchell, 2012).

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Although they are spread in almost every state, the majority of the population is concentrated in California, Michigan, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Metropolitan Los Angeles, Detroit, and New York CITATION Ara15 l 16393 (Arab American Institute Staff, n.d.).
Contrary to what most people believe, almost 82% of Arab Americans are native-born in the United States CITATION Ara15 l 16393 (Arab American Institute Staff, n.d.). Additionally, the term is the cause for much debate since most Arabs are identified so by the government, and not by themselves. Thus, the question of having a clear distinction in diversity for the community is an important one, and necessary to put into clear focus for steps taken in a legal measure CITATION Kay06 l 16393 (Kayyali, 2006).
There have been few studies conducted regarding the religious affiliations of the Arab-American community in the United States. A 2002 study, however, estimates that 63 percent of Arab Americans are Christian, 24 percent are Muslim, whereas 13 percent have other or no religious affiliations CITATION Kay06 l 16393 (Kayyali, 2006).
The Muslim population includes Sunni, Shia, and Druze Muslims. The high number of Christian Arab Americans, on the other hand, is attributed to the immigrants who came to the United States in the early nineteenth and the twentieth century to settle down and find work. Of the total population of Arab Americans who identify as Christians, 35 percent are Catholic, 10 percent Protestants, whereas 18 percent identify as eastern orthodox CITATION Kay06 l 16393 (Kayyali, 2006).
Arab Americans and 9/11
September 11, 2001, was a dreadful day not only in the history of the United States but also in the world. With almost 3000 lives lost, the attack put the Arab community on the map and Arab Americans in a glaring limelight. Immediately after the attacks, America was a nation wounded, and thus more hostile and unwelcoming towards people who were Arabs, or even seemed to be.
According to CNN, hate crime against Arab Americans in the United States saw a shocking rise of 1600 percent in just the course of a year from 2000 to 2001. Where there were only 354 crimes recorded against people of Middle Eastern descent in 2000, the number increased to 1501 in 2001 and a rise of just over 400 percent. Furthermore, it was not only Arabs who were affected by hate crimes – in the days following the attacks, even looking Arab, or having a name that sounded Muslim proved fatal for many people CITATION Dar12 l 16393 (Daraiseh, 2012).
Moreover, even before the attacks, stereotyping against the Arabs was quite rampant. Journalist Sydney Harris presented his views on the matter, and asserted that the popular image of the traditional Arab was hackneyed, mythical and highly stereotypical, as he shown with a robe, turban, and an underlying intention of ‘blowing up planes and hijacking buildings.’ He further criticized the discrimination against Arabs, saying that it set the human race up as incapable of being able to distinguish between a small group of people committing questionable acts and a larger sect suffering from the consequences of their actions. He further pointed out that the stereotype extended well beyond Arabs, and to other communities in the world as well – for example, Italians were suspected because of the famous Italian mafia, and Jews were thought to be a part of a financial conspiracy. Similarly, the presence of a few fanatics in the Arab community set them up to be perceived as violent and unpredictable CITATION Dar12 l 16393 (Daraiseh, 2012).
Contrary to popular belief, the number of Arab immigrants in America, especially those who became legal citizens, has stayed constant throughout the years, even after the 9/11 attacks. However, there has been a drastic drop in the number of non-immigrants who seek visas for purposes such as business, tourism, and education. Between 2000 to 2004, there was a reported drop of 70 percent in the number of visas being issues to Arab non-immigrants, especially in tourist and business visa applications coming in from the Gulf countries of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Oman CITATION Kay06 l 16393 (Kayyali, 2006).
The education system, too, witnessed a drop almost as drastic as the tourist and the business ones. Although the deduction in the admittance of students from all over the world was noteworthy in the years following 9/11, the decrease in the number of students admitted from the Gulf countries was the highest. Where the number of student visas issued to gulf-native students was 19,696 in 2000, only 6,826 were admitted to universities across the United States in 2004. The number of Egyptian students, especially, dropped by 52.7 percent, one of the highest in any category CITATION Kay06 l 16393 (Kayyali, 2006).
Racial profiling post 9/11
Amnesty International defines racial profiling as the practice of using race as a basis of suspecting someone for crimes that do not have a specific culprit or suspect. The practice has been condemned on grounds of inhumanity and undue suspicion, but has seen a steady increase in the United States over the years, especially after the attacks of September 11. In fact, racial profiling in America became almost intrusive and unjustified post 9/11 CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
The Middle Eastern community in America was made put into special focus immediately after the attacks. 5000 Middle Eastern men were targeted by federal law enforcement for investigation in the days that followed. Authorities also contacted colleges all over the country, seeking information on students having Middle Eastern roots, and often turned up unannounced to interview such students. In 2004, almost 13000 interviews were conducted with people of Arab and related ethnicities CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
Profiling extended not only to police investigations and the like, but also to other public sectors like work and airline travel. After 2001, the year of the attacks, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee received over 80 complaints from Middle Eastern people in America, saying that they had been discriminated against an airline solely on the grounds of their race, religion, or nationality. What is more is that such cases still persist in various parts of the country, and are justified under numerous measures by the law CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
The USA Patriot Act
Signed into constitution on October 26, 2001, the USA Patriot Act was among the major steps to taken by the United States government that directly targeted the Middle Eastern community in the country CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
According to the act, anyone who is deemed to a threat to national security, and who cannot repatriated because of having committed an immigration offense can be detained by law enforcement indefinitely, and without charges, to be investigated accordingly. It is speculated that as a direct result of the law, almost 1200 Middle Eastern men were detained without charges in secret detention centres all over the country CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
Furthermore, the act also contains ‘Guilt by Association’ clauses, which allow federal agents to search and seize property, wire taps phones, take personal belongings, and study spending and giving patterns, particularly books and charities to determine any terrorist threats. Under this clause, federal agents raided and destroyed property in 14 American Muslim organizations in 2002. Moreover, all acts can be done without any prior notice, thus granting the law enforcement authorities complete autonomy CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
In fact, Arab Americans reported a rise of almost 78 percent in racial profiling following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Even the counter-terrorism campaigns taken up by the government were blatant in their accusations by targeting the Middle Eastern community exclusively CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
Apart from the Patriot Act, the United States’ government’s alienation of and action against the Arab Americans have decreased their popularity among the population. Since the 9/11 attacks, there have been almost twenty changes and defence related changes in law enforcement, fifteen of which are targeted directly at Arabs. In addition, the rules and regulations surrounding customs and security in airports has deterred many Arabs to travel to United States CITATION Dar12 l 16393 (Daraiseh, 2012).
Change in attitude as reported by community members
A study by the Vera Institute of Justice talks about four dynamics that affect the Arab American community members – a increased paranoia regarding victimization or harassment, their place in the American community, protecting their civil liberties, and suspicion of the government and law enforcement CITATION Hen06 l 16393 (Henderson, Ortiz, Sugie, & Miller, 2006).
Since the attacks of September 11, community members have reported a strong increase in bias, hate crime, and personal fear. What is more is that their concerns have been reiterated by several law enforcement officers CITATION Hen06 l 16393 (Henderson, Ortiz, Sugie, & Miller, 2006).
As opposed to 28 in 2000 and 155 in 2002, there were 481 crimes reported against Arab Americans in 2001, according to the Uniform Crime Report by the FBI. Eighty percent of members reported a steep increase in hate crimes, ranging from vandalism, violence, and harassment. Other forms of discrimination and crime included threatening phone calls, racial slurs, and desecration of the community’s places of worship, that is, mosques. Many also reported their yards being dumped with garbage, and their shops set alight CITATION Hen06 l 16393 (Henderson, Ortiz, Sugie, & Miller, 2006).
Islamic symbols, most commonly the hijab, and Islamic writing and accent seemed to be a trigger. Furthermore, there was no distinction between Arab Muslims and Arab Christians when it came to violence and hate crime. The latter suffered on the same level as the former, regardless of their religious affiliations CITATION Chr10 l 16393 (Christensen & Smith, 2010).
The day immediately after the attack, Arab mosques in Chicago were stormed by mobs of white persons, some of whom had weapons and were shouting anti-Arabic slogans. The community was rebuilt, but vandalized again a year later. Muslim women, especially, reported their hijabs being pulled off their heads, as the symbol is a direct representative of Islam CITATION Dar12 l 16393 (Daraiseh, 2012).
Although the situation had improved significantly for the Arab American community over the course of the years, the recent terror attacks in Paris have further deteriorated the image of the community. Additionally, the rising terror of the ISIS in the Middle East, along with the critical refugee crisis have further solidified the impression of Arabs as illegal immigrants. A 2014 study conducted on American audiences revealed that since the advent of the ISIS in Iraq, Muslim popularity has gone down from 35 percent to 27 percent in America. Furthermore, a February 2014 study states that over 25 percent of Americans believe that the image of society presented by the ISIS is a direct parallel to a quintessential Islamic society CITATION Meh15 l 16393 (Mehdi, 2015).
What this situation thus needs is open-mindedness and the chance for the Arab community to be accepted not only in America but all over the world. Granted, a wounded person always is careful about precautions, but the repercussions have to be kept in mind. The words of Sydney Harris ring truer than ever before in this case—it is simply not fair to blame an entire community for the actions of a small group of people, aiming to enforce their thoughts and visions onto an unwilling society.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Arab American Institute Staff. (n.d.). Demographics. (A. A. Institute, Producer, & Veracity Media ) Retrieved November 22, 2015, from Arab American Institute:
Brown, H., Guskin, E., & Mitchell, A. (2012). Arab-American Population Growth. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
Christensen, A., & Smith, R. A. (2010). Issue Brief: Arab Americans and Criminal Justice. Columbia University Academic Commons. Retrieved from
Daraiseh, I. (2012, January 26). Effects of Arab-American Discrimination Post 9/11 in the Contexts of the Workplace and Education. McNair Scholars Research Journal, 4(1). Retrieved from
Henderson, N. J., Ortiz, C. W., Sugie, N. F., & Miller, J. (2006). Law Enforcement & Arab American Community Relations After September 11, 2001: Engagement in a Time of Uncertainty. New York: Vera Institute of Justice. Retrieved from
Kayyali, R. A. (2006, July 1). The People Perceived as a Threat to Security: Arab Americans Since September 11. Retrieved from Migration Information Source:
Mehdi, H. (2015, March 13). How Islamic is the Islamic State? Not at All. Retrieved from New Republic:

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