September 11th And The Legacy Of Islamophobia In America

September 11th And The Legacy Of Islamophobia In America

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was 11 years old. After the first plane hit, teachers took kids in from the playground and quickly ushered them into the classrooms. Some of them turned on TVs; others did not. Mine did. At that age, I was not fully able to comprehend what I saw. Though what I did see — buildings stripped to skeletal foundations, men and women covered in ash wandering the streets like ghosts, and remnants of homes, identities, and belongings strewn about like shattered glass — left quite an indelible mark in my heart. Ten years later, I think that this was my first glimpse into how fragile a nation and its unity can truly be. Funny, then, that we have chosen to rebuild ourselves and attack others with some of the very things that caused the mass destruction to begin with.


Although the neologism that is Islamophobia dates back to the 1990’s, it was not until after September 11, 2001 that the intolerance was so rampantly widespread that Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that “when the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry, that is a sad and troubling development.” While its definition, and for that matter, existence as a term, is contentious, many agree that Islamophobia is the hatred and fear of Islam and by extension, all Muslims. Though as much as I would like to say that American Islamophobia only emerged after 2001, the unfortunate truth is that it and the driving themes behind it have been around for quite some time; it is only after that cataclysmic day that it reared its ugly head that much higher.

Antisemitism and Islamphobia

According to Hussein Ibish, Senior Research Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, what we recognize today as Islamophobia is merely a reincarnation of 20th century anti-Semitism, a time when it was popular to create fantastical scenarios wherein Judaism and its followers were “dedicated to plotting and carrying out the violent overthrow of American and Christian Capitalist society.” Sound familiar? That’s because it is.

Ibish also uncovered some other popular anti-Semitic literature of the era, and the parallels between now and then are alarmingly similar. Just substitute “Muslim” for “Jews” in statements like “Jewish immigration to the United States is a weapon of this war and a mortal peril” or “Jews are religiously authorized to lie to, cheat, steal from and murder non-Jews whenever possible,” and you’ve got a winner.

oklahama city bombing

Coming a little closer to September 11, the entire Muslim-American population was quick to be called the culprit for another horrific terrorist attack, this time at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. KFOR, the local news station, received an anonymous phone call that day from a man who claimed his membership to the “Nation of Islam” as well as the responsibility for the bombing. Although unaware if the claim was accurate, the news station chose to air this claim several times that day, which resulted in over 200 hate crimes being committed to Arab and Muslim Americans in the next 72 hours, according to a report by the Arab American Institute. Suffice it to say, the perpetrator was not, in fact, a Muslim, but rather Timothy McVeigh, a homegrown terrorist who claimed to be a devout Christian.

Despite the fact that those responsible for the unnecessary deaths on September 11 were by no means identical to the majority of Muslims in America (much like many devout Christians are nothing like Timothy McVeigh), and the fact that over 300 people who died that day were Muslim, the unwarranted hatred continued, this time with a vengeance. From 2000 to 2001, the amount of hate crimes (pdf) committed against Arab-Americans quadrupled.

  • In San Gabriel, California, for instance, a woman dressed in Muslim clothing was attacked by another woman who yelled, “America is only for white people.” The woman was subsequently sent to the Emergency Room.
  • At a bagel shop in Beverly Hills, a customer saw another woman wearing a Quran charm, and attacked her, screaming “Look what you people have done to my people.” The woman lunged at the Muslim woman, but thankfully was restrained. Meanwhile, it was the victim who called the police as the shop owner apologized only to the attacker and offered her help.
  • Even those who weren’t Arab were targeted. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, two men attacked, robbed, and cut the penis of an Indian man, calling him an Arab and saying that “to be an American, you must be circumcised.”

These sentiments were only perpetuated and made legitimate by the remarks of many, like Ann Coulter, who earn their living by being small-minded and hateful. In 2001, Coulter stated, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.” Don’t worry, Ann; some of your conservative comrades have been trying.

While by no means were any of these hate crimes condonable, their prevalence so soon after the attacks is unsurprising. But now? Still?

terry jones picture

Recently, Terry Jones, the attention-starved Evangelical pastor who gives quite a few Muslim extremists a run for their money, created another publicity stunt with his desire to host an “International Burn a Quran Day,” only deciding against it once high-up officials like General David Petraeus took his inane ideas seriously, and thereby spread Jones’ hateful and bigoted beliefs to an entire population of people who may never have known this Floridian fool otherwise existed.

newt gingrich picture

And then there was the visceral and vitriolic reaction to the proposed construction of an Islamic Community Center close to (and by close I mean two city blocks away from) the former Twin Towers. Newt Gingrich, popular today for his extra-marital affairs and paying for nearly all of his Twitter followers, compared the community center to a Hitler memorial being built next to Auschwitz. The comparison is completely unfair and unreasonable, but if the comparison must be made, a fairer one would be that it is like stationing US troops next to the many Ground Zeros we have created in the Middle East.

And today, political leaders are quivering so much in their proverbial boots about the Islamic “takeover” that it has actually generated a substantial amount of heat in the Republican primary campaign trail. Recently, Michele Bachmann, largely under the influence of Frank Gaffney, well-known conspiracy theorist and Islamophobe, signed a pledge that rejected Sharia law. This pledge also equated homosexuality with adultery, which is something that is illegal in Bachmann’s home state of Minnesota. Funny enough, homosexuality and adultery are also considered crimes in Sharia law. Maybe Bachmann and Muslim extremists can find some common ground, after all.

In addition to calling attention to radical Islam while trying to squash it, Bachmann, along with others, has caught onto the trend of calling President Barack Obama whatever it is that she is currently afraid of. When Obama suggested that NASA increase its outreach efforts into Muslim countries, Bachmann riposted, “This leaves a lot of Americans wondering, where do this President’s interests lie?” thereby implying that Obama has a bias toward Islam. Suspiciously enough, Obama also has that name that rhymes with You-Know-Who. Bachmann, along with all other Republican fear mongers, knows that all you have to do is plant the seed to watch the paranoia flourish. And she did.

My question is, as a self-proclaimed Constitutionalist and Christian, what would it matter if Obama were a Muslim, Sephardic Jew, or a Mennonite? Both the Bill of Rights and Establishment Clause state that you may practice whatever religion you wish and not be punished or discriminated against because of it. Or to be pithier, there’s even that biblical beaut that commands Christians to “love thy neighbor.” But if it’s the violence about which Michele is concerned, she needn’t worry; democracy and Christianity both have a long history of war, oppression, and intolerance to offer.

Given how angry, scared, and bitter some Americans are about the imminent threat of the “Islamization of America,” one would think that the American Muslim must resemble some sort of blood thirsty sasquatch who seeks to implement his or her violent dogma into every aspect of peaceful American life. Wrong. Or that, you know, these Muslim Americans are really angry with how they’re being treated by the general public. Wrong again.

The results to a survey given randomly to over 1,000 Muslim Americans by the Pew Research Center are more telling about our own fear, hopelessness, and anger than theirs. For example, while 24% of the general population believes that Muslim support for Islamic extremism in the US is increasing, only 4% of Muslims (those who would actually know if this is true) agree. A mere 2% have a “very favorable” view of Al-Qaeda, much like there are a few handfuls of idiots out there that actually think white supremacy still makes one iota of sense. Furthermore, only 49% of those surveyed identify themselves as Muslims first and foremost. If that number seems alarming to you, fret not; 70% of White Evangelical Christians in the United States identify themselves as Christian before they do American.

The survey also unfortunately highlights the effects of Islamophobia: the majority of those surveyed report that they have received suspicious looks, been called offensive names, or have been singled out in airports or by other law enforcement. Furthermore, an additional 25% state that their mosques and Islamic centers have been targets of controversy and downright hostility.

Despite targeting and racial profiling, Muslim-Americans still are pretty satisfied with life in the United States. In fact, a majority of them say that the quality of life in America is better than their home countries, and that they want to adopt American customs and ways of life. And amid recessions and unemployment woes, it seems that these “outsiders” believe more in the “American Dream” than many of us “insiders” do: a whopping 74% of all Muslim-Americans surveyed believe that people can get ahead if they work hard, compared to the general public’s less enthusiastic 62% consensus. And no, these aren’t people born here and therefore inherently less pathogenic; 63% of those surveyed are first generation immigrants, 45% of whom have only been here since 1990.

And so in coping with the devastating effects of hate, we decided to respond with more hate, thereby more closely resembling a Hammurabi-esque form of “justice” than the international vanguard of justice and equality that we claim to be. The truth is that we don’t strengthen our country or honor the deaths of our loved ones by prescribing the same hatred and intolerance at which we were thrust that terrible September morning. We regain our national strength and honor them by loving thy neighbor, or, as expressed in the Quran, “[doing] good to […] those in need, neighbors who are near, [or] who are strangers.” More importantly, we honor those we lost by heeding their example: engaging in meaningful international and intercultural exchanges of ideas, goods, and services, realizing that the benefits of working together far outweigh those than when we do not.

Savannah Cox is a Foreign Languages/International Studies and Political Science double major at Bellarmine University, and has recently returned from the University of Granada, where she studied Spanish and Political Science. She has interned for the World Affairs Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana as well as Congressman John Yarmuth. In her free time, she enjoys reading, strumming a ukulele, and consuming large amounts of salty carbohydrates.


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