CAIR Arizona – Hate Hurts

11 01 18
  • Name: Council on American-Islamic Relations Arizona
  • Mission: Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, created a project to raise awareness around hate crimes against Muslims in the US.
  • Size: 3 staff and 15 volunteers
  • Location: Arizona, United States
  • Key personnel: Director – Imraan Siddiqi


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) branch in Arizona has created a project to raise awareness around hate crimes against Muslims.

The Hate Hurts project works on identifying incidents and then creating buzz to make them go viral and get picked up by news outlets. It also creates videos explaining the issues behind anti-Muslim hatred and supports victims of hate crimes.


“When the Council on American-Islamic Relations was created in 1994, there was very little religious sensitivity and Hollywood had a lot of caricatures of Arabs and Muslims in movies such as True Lives,” says Imraan Siddiqi, the director of CAIR’s Arizona branch.

‘True Lives’ portrays a Muslim terror group called ‘Crimson Jihad’ terrorising America. It  is one of the many movies of the 1980s and 90s to portray Muslims as one-dimensional evil characters.

CAIR’s main challenge was changing the way Muslims were depicted in pop culture and by corporate brands. However, after 9/11 the sharp rise in discrimination, prejudice and hate crimes against Muslims meant it had to expand its role.

Hate groups also became more sophisticated, with exorbitant amounts of money funding them and helping to establish an “Islamophobia network”. In response to the upsurge in hate crime, CAIR now employs around 40 lawyers and one of its main functions is giving legal advice to the Muslim community.

Imraan joined CAIR as a board member after 9/11.

“I used to write articles in addition to my corporate job to challenge anti Muslim narratives and stand up against the bias that exists in the media. But after 9/11 I knew I had to do something bigger so I joined the Arizona chapter of CAIR,” he says.

After witnessing another spike in anti-Muslim hate crime in late 2015, as well as Donald Trump announcing his candidacy and the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, Imraan started the Hate Hurts project.


“We’re not trying to track every hate group, we’re just trying to elevate stories that may not be covered in mainstream media,” says Imraan.

Although CAIR national tracks hate groups and has built a database of organisations that make up the Islamophobia network, Imraan decided to focus on raising awareness around anti-Muslim hatred.

Courtesy of CAIR Arizona

Initially, Imraan just tweeted about Islamophobia to his many followers. But he soon realised he would need a platform to house the many incidents and created the Hate Hurts website.

Imraan used a Launch Good campaign to start up Hate Hurts and continued to fund it through local community donations to CAIR.

“We wanted to create a platform that would have some type of impact on how the public perceives and sees hate crime. This project is still in its infancy but you can see the power of social media and its ability to make things go viral,” says Imraan.

People have also started to reach out to Hate Hurts to share their experiences of hate, such as a Muslim Texan family who were victims of blatant harassment on a beach (they sent Imraan a video of the incident).

Through Hate Hurts, Imraan pushed the video on social media and as it went viral, larger news outlets picked up the story. AJ+, an online news channel run by Al Jazeera, published a version of the video, reaching over 60 million viewers.

Imraan does not try to amplify every anti-Muslim incident and not every video he posts on Hate Hurts goes viral, but he says other news outlets cannot dedicate the resources to cover these stories in depth – “They may do one story a month, so we needed a dedicated platform.”

Working with a videographer, he also creates educational videos explaining the issues that underpin anti-Muslim hatred. These are then often shared by the parent organisation, CAIR national.

Imraan says he was pleasantly surprised by how much the website resonated with people across cultures, religions and races. Hate Hurts not only covers Muslims suffering hate but also Sikhs, Hindus and Arab Christians who are caught in the backlash of anti-Muslim hatred.


“I think people trust in our ability to act as a microphone – there is still a lot of untapped potential in this project. But we don’t want to be the primary contact point for victims,” says Imraan.

He is very clear victims of hate crime need to report the situation to the police or civil rights organisations first. Hate Hurts was only designed to highlight stories, after all.

But Hate Hurt’s biggest challenge is the underreporting of hate crimes.

“People feel a sense of shame and helplessness, they start doubting themselves and start thinking, ‘maybe I wasn’t harassed’,” Imraan says.

Others don’t want to tell Hate Hurts, fearing they’ll be on the front pages of the newspaper and in the centre of a media circus.

Hate Hurts staff spend a lot of time reassuring the community and demystifying the process of raising awareness around hate crime.

All the reports that come to Hate Hurts are also verified for validity, as there have been a few incidents where a person lied or falsified their statement.

“One person falsifying a report is not going to discount the many incidents happening and because of the systematic underreporting, we don’t see a true picture of what’s happening out there,” says Imraan.

FBI data shows a rise in hate crimes across the US in 2016, with 6,121 incidents compared to the 5,850 reported the year before. However, the data holds many gaps as it relies on law enforcement agencies voluntarily submitting data. Many of them don’t. In Massachusetts, one of the most thorough states when it comes to reporting hate crimes, fewer than a quarter of the agencies submitted data.

While CAIR Arizona has three staff members, Imraan has been keeping the website afloat with a handful of interns, a videographer and a few periodic pieces from freelancers.

Moving forwards

Often a primary source of information for news outlets, Hate Hurts measures impact by how much traction a story gets. Imraan follows the number of hits, which outlets or journalists pick up the story and how much buzz it creates online.

“I was surprised by how much Hate Hurts resonated with people. I think it’s because it transcends lines between culture, religion and race and shows how Islamophobia doesn’t only affect Muslims – but people from all walks of life,” says Imraan.

He’s now working with the Stop Hate Project – run by a group of lawyers fighting racial inequalities – on a series of instructive videos on how to stand up against hate.

This will include effective ways of reacting to somebody being harassed in a situation that may become violent and will be published in December.

“We’re not really working to shift the perception of the most extreme elements of society because they have a different agenda, but for some people, seeing this proof will help,” says Imraan.

The next goal for Hate Hurts will be dedicating more human resources to expand the reach of the project.

“We’re just scratching the surface at the moment,” Imraan says.


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