Being Muslim in America after 9/11 [The conversation]
Ten years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the media has reflected on what's been called "the decade of fear" -- a neurotic era devoted to safety, or at least reclaiming the illusion that we're safe. In Sunday's Opinion pages, the editorial board questions the money spent on security, considering that "the number of people killed annually by Muslim terrorists outside war zones is roughly equal to the number who die in bathtub accidents," and explores how we've changed psychologically:
The clearest and most lasting legacy of the attacks for Americans is fear. Before 9/11, this was a country lulled into a sense of invincibility as the world's greatest military power, a country that had not seen a large-scale foreign attack on American shores since the bombing of the naval base at Pearl Harbor, or any massive, violent incursion on civilian neighborhoods since the Civil War. With the end of the 50-year-old Cold War, political scientist Francis Fukuyama triumphantly proclaimed "the end of history," and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer trumpeted "the unipolar moment." After 9/11, however, police patrolled airports and skyscrapers, opening car trunks and demanding identification of any who entered. Fear insinuated itself into our lives in serious and silly ways. A mound of spilled sugar on a desk could bring an entire office building to a standstill while a hazmat team was called in to determine whether it was anthrax.
One could also call this post-9/11 era "the decade of intolerance." Here's a sampling of essays from across the Web reflecting on the unfair anti-Muslim sentiment that's permeated our country.
A burden of prejudice
Threading through the history of the United States is a long line of reviled newcomers. In the 1850s, Irish and German Catholics were vilified by the Know Nothing movement. In the 1890s, Italians were subjected to frequent lynchings. Jews of the 1930s were excoriated by Father Charles Coughlin, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Ku Klux Klan.
In the years following September 11, America’s 2.6 million Muslims have often found themselves facing similar kinds of hostility. And, while it’s certainly true that concerns about extremism among a tiny minority are justified -- some of the foiled terrorist plots since 9/11 did involve Muslim citizens who intended grave harm to the United States -- it is equally true that the wider community of American Muslims has, for the past decade, borne a deeply unfair burden of prejudice and misunderstanding.
Harassed and humiliated
The 9/11 attackers were labeled “Muslim terrorists” and evil personified was given a Muslim face. We were told that these Muslim terrorists were aided and abetted by Muslim countries. Clearly, this logic went, Muslims were not to be trusted. The West developed special security procedures and sophisticated software to identify and track Muslims. Adherents of the Muslim faith were harassed and humiliated across the world. It was the computer-age equivalent of the Nazis daubing yellow Stars of David on the doors of Jewish homes.
Strained interfaith relations
Experts say the attacks of 9/11 have had a dramatic impact on interfaith relations in America. But that impact has been felt in complicated and sometimes contradictory ways. On one hand, there has been an unprecedented wave of new interfaith activities, with Muslims playing key roles. At the same time, however, there’s been a growing wave of religious division and public distrust of Muslims.
Crushed American dreams
That week, on Sept. 15, my family had plans to move to our first home, part of our American dream. We were moving to a "white neighbourhood" in League City on the outskirts of Houston. When we arrived at our new home and got out of our minivan, the neighbours quickly cleared the street and went indoors, yet another reminder of the arduous path ahead of us.
9/11 caught us all by surprise. American Muslims, ever so comfortable and free in our ways, were caught off-guard. We were grieving with our nation, but also required to share responsibility and answer for the actions of a few who claimed to share our faith.
Victims of misunderstanding
Last weekend, my son Luke just turned 13 years old, and my son Jack is now 8 years old. They both understand what Christianity and Islam are and are not. In their classrooms, they have friends who are Muslim. The other day, my son Jack, who missed the events of 9/11, heard a disparaging remark on television about Islam and quickly retorted, "That's not true, there is a Muslim boy in my class, and he is not like that at all." Luke and I recently watched the National Geographic special that described the events of the day, which we remember this week. It helped him to put the pieces in place from his memories of 9/11 as a 3-year-old. I was struck with how he looks at the world with more sympathy than fear, and how strongly he feels about war's inability to solve any of the problems and conflicts between people.
A struggle of the their lives
After the tragic events of 9/11, there were some genuine attempts to improve understanding and awareness between peoples. But that good will has given way in recent years to increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. and around the world, prejudices that were reflected in a recent Gallup poll. [...] Many of them are now engaged in the struggle of their lives to achieve the kind of freedom that Muslims living in the U.S. appreciate. It is too soon to predict the outcome, but we should have no doubt that women will be at the forefront of positive change. We should support their efforts, not for political expediency, but because it is the right thing to do.
Embarrassment and redemption
The next years would be the most challenging of my life. As a 13-year-old, I wanted nothing more than to fit in with my surroundings. Being a devout Muslim certainly wouldn't help. I instructed my mom to pick me up 15 minutes after practice was over so my teammates wouldn't know that she wore a head scarf. During Ramadan when I fasted, I went to the library instead of the lunchroom, hoping to go unnoticed by my classmates. I was ashamed of my Islamic identity and felt that others couldn't see me as an American because of it.
These experiences forced me to reflect on my faith. Being born into this faith would not be enough; I would have to believe in it. If I didn't, Islam would be tucked into a corner of my life, away from the sight of others. The more I read, challenged, and questioned, the more I was propelled to become the best citizen I could be. To care for those in need, to positively contribute to my community, and to sponsor equality and justice, Islam made me into a better American.
Photo: Muslims in Pasadena on Sept. 13, 2001, sing "God Bless America" at an interfaith memorial service for victims of the 9/11 attacks. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / AFP