Counter-Islamophobia Project

Islamophobia Reports

2018 Civil Rights Report: Background, Methodology, and Limitations

Background

From 1995 to 2009, CAIR published an annual report on the status of civil rights for Muslims in the United States. After a brief hiatus, during which the organization invested significant resources to improve human resources and case intake, investigation, management, and classification, the annual report was relaunched in 2017.

Targeted is thus the second annual report following the release of the 2017 Civil Rights Report, The Empowerment of Hate. It provides both hard numbers and real stories of the lives of American Muslims, functioning as a document reflective of the status of American Muslim civil rights over time.

Methodology

Each year, thousands of Americans contact CAIR through a variety of media, including telephone, email, the online complaint system, and CAIR’s mobile app. When possible, CAIR staff also may also reach out to offer their services to individuals whose incidents were reported in news sources and not directly to CAIR.

With each case, civil rights staffers review preliminary materials and conduct extensive interviews with prospective clients as part of the confidential intake process. After gathering adequate information to determine whether a case contains an identifiable element of religious, ethnic, or national origin bias, CAIR staffers strip the case of any confidential and identifying information. This information remains in their independent case management system, and the incident is entered into the national bias incident database.

Launched in 2014, this database is used by all CAIR chapters to chart incidents of religious discrimination as they occur across the country. Prior to gaining access to the system, staffers complete training on case categorization and data entry.

To add a new entry, staff specify the state in which the incident occurred, its date, and whether there was an apparent element of religious discrimination. If the latter is marked, the form expands for the staffer to categorize the case based on a number of data points including the type of abuse the complainant experienced, the location of the incident, the precipitating factor that led to it, and so on.

Numerous cases contain elements of many of these factors and staff is therefore trained to only select the representative issues which best describe the complaint. Where appropriate, basic biographical information pertaining to the complainant has also been collected starting in 2017.

In addition to direct intake via legal staff, CAIR also monitors local and national news sources and media reports to collect incidents of anti-Muslim bias. Each external report is fact-checked, verified by a third party, and vetted to exclude false cases or those which are found to have no discernible element of religious discrimination. To prevent duplicate case entry, each incident culled from the media is cross-checked with the appropriate CAIR chapter prior to its entry into the national database.

Thousands of cases have gone through CAIR’s system in the past few years. Irrespective of the fact that not all cases contain evidence of religious discrimination, each case still passes through the investigative stage in order to determine whether CAIR is able to assist the complainant. Assistance can include referral to an appropriate government agency, community organization, or private attorney, in addition to directing the complainant to information relevant to their issue. In effect, this means that each case fed through the preliminary intake and categorization process requires a minimum of three to four hours of staff time to address, regardless of whether it is actionable. Therefore, it is conclusive that any case listed in this report as containing an element of religious discrimination has undergone a thorough vetting process which seeks to ensure the highest possible form of accuracy.

Limitations

This report contains a mere snapshot of the experiences of American Muslims, including children, youth, and families, across the United States. From experience, CAIR knows that bias incidents targeting the community are vastly underreported to both law enforcement and community institutions.

Community members will often not report incidents, such as harassment and bullying, because of a certain level of desensitization. CAIR staff often hear of episodes in which individuals are harassed and do not report the incident because the target feels that either nothing can be done, or that such treatment is expected and normal, and does not necessitate an official complaint.

Where CAIR is present, the local community is more likely to report cases to the organization. Thus, in states like California and Florida where CAIR has multiple offices, a higher numbers of cases are expected than in states like Tennessee or Montana where the organization does not yet have an office.

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