US libraries report spike in Islamophobic hate speech since election

As well as an attempt to remove a student’s hijab at the University of New Mexico, books across the country have been defaced

A spate of racist incidents has been reported by US librarians in the aftermath of the presidential election. According to data gathered by the American Libraries Association (ALA), copies of the Qur’an and books about Islam have been defaced with swastikas and hate speech at locations across the US.

In the worst incident, four days after the election of Donald Trump, a man attempted to forcibly remove a student’s hijab as she studied in the library of the University of New Mexico. In November, in libraries as far apart as Oregon and Illinois, copies of the Qur’an have been defaced. In the Illinois incident, police were called in to investigate after seven books were vandalised in Evanston public libraries. As well as swastikas and comments about the prophet Muhammad in a copy of The Koran for Dummies, copies of the Qur’an, textbooks and conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s It’s All About Islam were also defaced.

ALA president Julie Todaro expressed alarm at the increase in the hate crimes perpetrated in libraries. She laid blame upon divisive rhetoric during the recent presidential election campaign. “These crimes – from defacing library materials in public libraries to offensive graffiti on the walls of academic libraries – have begun to mirror the divisive rhetoric of this campaign season,” she said.

A photo posted by Evanston public library librarian Lorena Neal. The library filed a police report and they reported the incident to the Southern Poverty Law Center for their database on hate crimes.
A photo posted by Evanston public library librarian Lorena Neal on Facebook. Photograph: Lorena Neal/Facebook

Until now, the ALA had not collected data on hate crimes based on the legal definition, but Todaro was certain that incidents had risen sharply over the past month. “While libraries have always reported on a wide variety of crimes, and we have always had serious incidents of defacing library materials and graffiti, we are just now beginning to hear of many more specific instances of incidents of bigotry and harassment within libraries,” she said.

Public libraries, she added, should be regarded as safe spaces by users, but “visible crimes of this nature, while being in direct opposition of our values of diversity, unity and inclusion also alarm us greatly” because, she said, they send a message that the institutions were either dangerous or less safe for users from diverse backgrounds.

The move of hate crimes into public libraries reflects an overall trend in the US, according to the latest FBI statistics. These revealed a 67% jump in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015, rising from 154 incidents in 2014 to 257 a year later during the presidential primaries.


Danuta Kean

The GuardianTramp

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