In mid-May, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) launched an online petition drive against what it called Not in the Name of Islam.

The effort was an attempt to give US Muslims an opportunity to publicly denounce "the violent acts of a few Muslims" such as the beheading of Nicholas Berg in Iraq.  

"No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam," the petition states. "We repudiate and dissociate ourselves from any Muslim group or individual who commits such brutal and un-Islamic acts." 

More than 640,000 individuals and members of signatory organisations have signed the petition so far, according to CAIR's website. 

'No to Bigotry'

In addition, CAIR recently published a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times titled No to terrorism, No to Bigotry. 

'War on terror' atmosphere has
contributed to attacks on Muslims

"Islam, Christianity, and Judaism share the basic values necessary to create a world in which tolerance and peace prevail ...  American Muslims condemn all acts of terrorism and are outraged as their fellow Americans by atrocities committed in the name of God and their faith," the advertisement said. 

Other Muslim groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) are starting new initiatives to work with federal law enforcement agencies to "condemn terrorism". 

Whether such efforts will dispel the perception by some Americans that Islam is a "violent religion" is unclear.

The post-9/11 image created by al-Qaida and other "terrorist organisations" has taken such a strong hold in certain corners of American society, said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.

"Some people really feel that they are not safe and that Muslims are treacherous and cannot be trusted," Bray said.

Vigilance needed

Nevertheless, several Muslim American activists said the time had come for their community to speak out against terrorism in a more public medium, despite the fact that their organisations have already issued repeated statements denouncing "terrorist acts" around the world.

"Islam, Christianity, and Judaism share the basic values necessary to create a world in which tolerance and peace prevail ...  American Muslims condemn all acts of terrorism and are outraged as their fellow Americans by atrocities committed in the name of God and their faith"

Advertisement in the Los Angeles Times

"We need more vigilance on the part of Muslims to push our message forward," said Muhammad Nimr, CAIR’s research director.

Despite what many Muslim groups described as a concerted effort to repudiate acts improperly attributed to Islam, "The hostility factor [against Muslims] is off the charts," said Salam al-Marayati, executive director of MPAC.

"We are still in a very dangerous stage in our struggle to become a part of American pluralism," al-Marayati said.

Harassment on the rise

According to an annual report published by CAIR in early May, reports of "harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment" against US Muslims increased 70% in 2003.

Hate crimes, in the form of physical violence, against Muslims grew by 121% in 2003, the report states.

A previous US ad campaign tried 
to dispel any notion of Muslims 
as a persecuted minority

Although the report said incidents of passenger profiling and "unreasonable, search and seizure" dropped significantly, allegations of profiling and "discriminatory application of the law" by federal and local law enforcement personnel accounted for a third of all reports.

The report cited alleged abuses of the USA Patriot Act, unlawful detention of Muslim immigrants and an overzealous pattern of pursuing "terrorism cases" without substantive evidence.

"Nationally, it has become clear that the US government has pursued a policy of overstating terror charges against Muslims — often issuing affidavits connecting them to 'terror' and then dropping unsubstantiated charges while prosecuting minor procedural and regulatory violations," the report said.

Among the five contributing factors listed in the report are "a lingering atmosphere of fear since the 9/11 attacks," the war in Iraq and a "noticeable increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric".

Nimr said groups associated with the religious right were responsible for many of the most egregious anti-Muslims comments, including one by a Florida Evangelist who told a congregation that the Quran tells followers to kill nonbelievers.

"They felt less restrained after 9/11 to say these things," Nimr said.

Election impact

Bray said that because political tensions would only increase with the upcoming presidential election, he did not expect a substantial improvement in the situation any time soon.

"I anticipate it is going to be what we in the civil rights movement call a long, hot summer for Muslims"

Mahdi Bray,
executive director, Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation

"I anticipate it is going to be what we in the civil rights movement call a long, hot summer for Muslims," he said.

Part of the challenge in refuting popular misconceptions about Islam is the relative dearth of a Muslim presence in the media, al-Marayati said.

"Unfortunately, most of the time you turn on the television you do not find Muslims, you find non-Muslims talking about Islam," he said.

Bray, who hosts a twice-weekly radio show on a local Virginia station, said the Muslim community must take advantage of every opportunity to call attention to the type of anti-Muslim incidents described in the CAIR report.

"I think people really need to inform and let people know about these cases," he said. "I think we have to continue to challenge the tone of rhetoric."