SAALT blames Trump administration for escalation in post-election xenophobia

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In the year since the 2016 presidential election, one in five perpetrators of hate violence in the United States against various South Asian and Middle Eastern communities invoked President Donald Trump’s name, his administration’s policies or his campaign slogan during the attacks, a new report found.

The nonprofit group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) released the report last week, which detailed increasing instances of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric from Election Day 2016 to Election Day 2017. The group documented more than 300 reported incidents targeting South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern and Arab communities during that period.

“It’s heartbreaking.” Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT, told HuffPost. “When you have people literally saying or leveraging the ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan as they are violently assaulting our community members ― that for me draws a direct connection in a way that could not be clearer.”

SAALT documented 213 incidents of hate violence ― a more than 45 percent increase compared to the year leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The levels of violence mirror those seen the year after the 9/11 attacks, with 82 percent of the hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric now motivated by Islamophobia, the group said.

“The 2016 United States presidential election cycle and ultimately the inauguration of President Donald Trump amplified a wave of hate violence against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities to heights not seen since the year after the attacks of September 11, 2001,” it said.

The report noted that “Islamophobia and hate violence in the United States predate the September 11th era and have continued to escalate since.” It also said that “the dramatic surge in rhetoric rooted in anti-Black, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant sentiment in 2016 and 2017 has fueled a palpable and unparalleled atmosphere of hate and suspicion.”

The report said that Trump’s first year in office built on the “already disturbing surge in hate violence” documented in SAALT’s 2017 report “Power, Pain, Potential.” That report had documented 207 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities during the 2016 election cycle from Nov. 1, 2015 to Election Day on Nov. 8,2016.

SAALT’s most recent report covers the period Nov. 9, 2016 to Nov. 7, 2017. In the first year after the presidential election, SAALT documented 302 incidents and hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric, “aimed at our communities.” SAALT said it was an increase of more than 45 percent from its previous analysis.

SAALT said violence against South Asian communities “is informed by the stated and implicit goals of the current administration, and is also the product of the longstanding and systemic injustice that underpins many of our nation’s systems and institutions.”

The report was funded by the Ford Foundation, Four Freedoms Fund, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, NOVO Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Proteus Fund, and the Voqal Fund.

There is a direct relationship between the advancement of a political agenda and the rise of hate and bigotry in America, according to Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, who keynoted a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by South Asians Leading Together (SAALT). The March 22 briefing coincided with the civil rights organization’s release of a report on hate violence.

“We see a rise of nationalism -good people who will go towards a nationalist candidate or government that says it’s our time and try to grow a moat” around people seen as “the other” in the country, he said. Cardin said this had alarming consequences because it gives political strength to policies that encourage bigotry and hate. He said a strong rise of anti-immigrant fervor and “the politics of that” becomes increasingly challenging. “We see the rise of violent acts and the number of crimes that are committed based upon hate,” he said.

The Maryland lawmaker said that for the first time since World War II governments contain elements that pursue these policies. And while hate crimes have occurred in the past, he said “we’ve never seen political support for policies that support” these kinds of hate and bigotry. “We are now seeing leaders of democratic countries that run on a nationalistic platform that encourage these activities. So, this is extremely alarming and very serious.”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), one of the congressional cosponsors of the SAALT Capitol Hill briefing, stressed the importance of holding elected officials and equality for all,” said Suman Raghunathan, executive director of SAALT.

Raghunathan led a panel discussion that included Sim J. Singh, national advocacy manager of The Sikh Coalition; Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute; Becky Monroe, director of the Stop Hate Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights; and Darakshan Raja, co-founder of Justice for Muslims Collective. She said “our nation has now become a melting pot of hate stirred by a raft of divisive and destructive policies and political rhetoric” and this was a critical moment. “The White House bully pulpit has had a devastating impact, sometimes with fatal consequences to our communities,” she said.

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