Muslims in the United States say that the way they are now being treated here qualifies them to be characters in Arthur Miller's famous novel, 'The Crucible', a classic story of innocent villagers accused of crimes and sins they did not commit.
Set in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, 'The Crucible' tells the story of villagers preoccupied by a fear of the devil due to their severe Puritan belief system. In the story, because of mass hysteria brought about by the witchcraft scare, 19 innocent people are hanged on the signature of a deputy governor, who has the authority to try, convict, and execute anyone he deems sinful.
"This novel represents deeply and honestly the plight of Muslim and Arab rights and liberties in the United States at present," said a press release from the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Wednesday.
Muslims have been subjected to forms of scrutiny and discrimination after the Sep. 11 attacks on U.S. landmarks, attributed to Saudi dissident Usama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda group.
In June, a report by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute (MPI), an influential think tank, found that the round-up and detention of hundreds of Muslims after the attacks were particularly abusive.
It said that the government's effort to depict some of those who were detained as "terrorists" was simply wrong. The only charges brought against nearly all of them were actually for routine immigration violations or ordinary crimes.
A report released in July by CAIR found that anti-Muslim incidents in the United States increased by 15 percent over the previous year because of the anti-Muslim fervor in the United States.
Incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment rose from 525 confirmed incidents in the 2002 report to 602, according to the study.
Muslims say that the government is partly to blame for actions that led to wider suspicion of Muslims, including the March 2002 raids on Muslim families and businesses in Virginia and Georgia, the compulsory special registration program for Muslim visa-holders, and the questioning of thousands of Iraqi-Americans.
"Many people had their homes raided, many had been confronted by the FBI which requested information, many people have been subpoenaed for grand jury investigations, organizations have had their finances looked at and, to various degrees, mosques have been asked to provide lists of their worshippers to the FBI," said Raeed Tayeh, of the Muslim American Society in Washington.
Yet Muslim groups say the past few months saw a new twist -- a shift towards targeting of Muslim community leaders, who were trying to empower Muslims, and of pro-Palestine activists.
Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, who directs the Washington-based advocacy group the American Muslim Council (AMC), was arrested last week as he returned to the United States from London. The FBI says he made unauthorized visits to Libya, which violated sanctions against the North African nation.
Muslim groups however say that the arrest was made at the behest of self-described experts on Islam like the Jerusalem Post columnist Daniel Pipes and his protege Steven Emerson, author of the book 'American Jihad'. Both are widely seen in the American Muslim community as anti-Islam.
Pipes had written in June against the AMC, saying that the FBI should put the organization under surveillance, ascertain its funding sources, look over its books, and check its staff's visa status.
In July, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, a University of Mississippi graduate who had called for an independent Palestinian state, was arrested after FBI agents brought immigration charges against him. But his advocates claim that the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington politically motivated the case.
Also earlier this year, a university of Southern Florida professor, Sami Al-Arian, who was one of the most vocal supporters of Muslim political empowerment and a man who had met with administration officials and dozens of members of Congress, was accused of being the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
"The government says it has nine years of evidence, but yet again why they did they sit on such evidence for nine years?" said Tayeh. "This is the pattern we are alluding to."
Muslim Americans say have also suffered targeting under the USA Patriot Act. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that the act was passed only 45 days after the Sep. 11 attacks with little debate in Congress.
"Without a warrant and without probable cause, the FBI now has the power to access your most private medical records, your library records, and your student records... and can prevent anyone from telling you it was done," says the ACLU in its description of the Patriot Act.
Muslims say they also witnessed a surge in hate crimes and endured continued stereotyping in the popular media - and even at times Islamophobic rhetoric by high-ranking officials and by evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
Last week, a republican representative, Cass Ballenger, claimed the stress of living near the offices a Muslim civil rights group, CAIR, caused the breakup of his marriage.
In an interview with the Charlotte Observer newspaper, Ballenger said that proximity to CAIR "bugged the hell" out of his wife.
He said his wife also objected to women "wearing hoods" going in and out of CAIR's Capitol Hill headquarters and he accused the group of raising funds for terrorists.
"Ballenger's statements are a perfect example of Islamophobic hysteria at the highest levels of government. We view this incident as a direct byproduct of the campaign currently being waged by neo-conservative opinion leaders to marginalize and disenfranchise the American Muslim community," said Arsalan Iftikhar, CAIR's director of legal affairs. CAIR says it may take legal action against Ballenger.
A recent incident that sent reverberations through the community in the Washington DC area was the stabbing from behind of a Muslim woman who was wearing an Islamic headscarf, in a K-Mart parking lot in Springfield, Virginia.
The white male teenage attacker allegedly shouted, "you terrorist pig," before running away.
Miller wrote 'The Crucible' in response to one of America's most famous "witch hunts" that took place in his time in the 1950's, McCarthyism, which hunted down so-called communists and their sympathizers. But now the decades-old novel is resonating with Muslims.
"The novel shows two main sources for hysteria," said Allaa Baioumi of CAIR. "One of them is fundamentalists in the village. These are the right wing and neo-conservatives now. The other section was people who benefited from the crisis like rich folks who wanted to punish their opponents. Now these are the pro-Israel lobbyists."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company