20 Years out from 9/11, Islamophobia still on the rise
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
Imagine, 20 years ago this week—the horrific attack on the twin towers. Terrorist-manipulated planes hit New York’s twin towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, ending 2977 lives and followed by the mourning and grief of most U.S. and many of the world’s citizens. One direct and ugly result of this horror was an increase in the U.S. of Islamophobia, not only in everyday life but in the halls of government in Washington.
Impact of 9/11 on the lives of Muslim Americans
The destruction and death of those 2977 lives and the ensuing American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to address the terrorism that originated in the Middle East were the most direct signs of the devastation of 9/11. Other after affects, however, were equally devastating for the innocent Americans who just happened to be Muslim or look Muslim. It was the Islamophobia and inherent racism heaped upon them that took their toll on numerous American individuals and innumerable communities.
Post-2001 Islamophobia was not the first time such racist and religious hatred against Muslims had been expressed in the U.S. Now, 20 years later this bigotry and a certain level of violence against Muslims has continued to grow. While some critics have attempted for malevolent purposes or just out of ignorance to downplay the level of anti-Muslim sentiment and violence, there is lots of direct evidence to show the opposite.
A report of the violence and hate crimes underscores the fact of the matter of growing Islamophobia in the U.S. Refinery29, a news source directed towards women, reported, “In the months following 9/11, the number of hate crimes against Muslims jumped: In 2000, there were just 28 recorded hate crimes; in 2001, there were 481. While anti-Muslim hate crimes used to be the second-least reported type of religious-bias incidents, they quickly became second-highest reported.”
As a result of these hate crimes, Muslims began to speak out against the shame and physical assaults inflicted on them. Perpetrators of crimes against Muslims responded that they were avenging the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. Some of the crimes were so indiscriminate that one was actually perpetrated on a non-Muslim turban-wearing Sikh. Less violent but extremely hurtful are incidents of discrimination against Muslims in schools and in airport security lines, where especially women wearing hijabs (or hijabis) are singled out for inspection.
Politicians have also driven Islamophobia at the national level. Trump and his cabinet actively promoted Islamophobia, threatening, and subsequently enacting a ban on Muslim-majority countries. The Supreme Court right-wing faction upheld the ban, despite its more usual respect for religious freedom.
Specific impacts of post-9/11 on Muslim American youth
Muslim American youth have been particularly affected by the aftermath of the 2001 attacks. Examples are photos popping up on their phones anonymously of beheadings by Islamic State fighters, captioned in red: “Go back to your country.”
The Los Angeles Times reported on a young Muslim female, “There was the boy in sixth grade who would say ‘allahu akbar,’ Arabic for ‘God is great,’ and throw his backpack near her, pretending it was a bomb. And the time in eighth-grade math class when a boy turned to her and asked how she could ‘be part of a religion of terrorists.'”
A division of their lives into two compartments is another way younger Muslim Americans have used to cope with the discrimination they’ve been exposed to. As reported by the LA Times, “Some Muslims in the United States think about their lives as having two distinct chapters: before two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and after. Then there’s a generation that has known only a world in which one terrible day changed their country.”
Then there are some Muslim youth who favorably compare their lives in the U.S. with countries like France. There, the French government bans certain types of Islamic dress, including the hijab, or headscarf. But in America, where the hijab is accepted, its meaning is twisted by some Americans to denote the wearer as a terrorist.
9/11 questions about the religious liberty of American Muslims
With 9/11, many Muslims were awakened to how fragile American constitutional protections became for them. Even years after the attacks, according to Deseret News, “government officials and everyday citizens constrained the rights of their Muslim neighbors, using national security concerns to justify surveillance, profiling, and discrimination.”
Mind you, this news source is sponsored by a branch of the Mormon church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), but one thing it does know is religious discrimination when it sees it.
According to that source, a whole new world view, unfortunately negative, presented itself to Muslim Americans: “Muslims often feel like second-class citizens…They question America’s promise of religious freedom for all.” Even efforts to build trust and fight stereotypes backfired, inducing more surveillance of the government, feeding even more distrust.
As the war on terror intensified following 9/11, the relationship between Muslim groups and the U.S. government worsened. According to Deseret News, “As their relationship with government officials grew more fraught, American Muslims simultaneously lost political and religious allies who could have helped them defend their rights.”
Muslim Americans have faced many disappointments living under the U.S. constitution, perhaps the biggest one being the insult and awful inconvenience of the Supreme Court-imposed Muslim ban. While that ban was reversed by President Biden’s executive order, the aftermath of families separated by the ban is still being sorted out.
“Yes, 9/11 Did Cause An Increase In Islamophobia,” Refinery29, 9/11/2020
“Muslim youth in America: A generation shadowed by the aftermath of 9/11,” Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2021
“How 9/11 changed American Muslims’ relationship with religious liberty,” Deseret News, 9/4/2021
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He did fieldwork in an east Libyan Saharan oasis and has taught at the University of Libya-Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo. John served with the United Nations as an advisor in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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