This study examined the effects of terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on life of Islamic people in the United States. The changes in Muslims’ social status in the American society and their treatment by mainstream Americans have been considered. The policy of the U.S. government toward Islamic people in the aftermath of 9/11 has been analyzed.
The results of the study demonstrated clearly that 9/11 changed significantly the attitude to Muslims in the American general public in negative direction which reflected in verbal assaults, vandalism, workplace harassment, and boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses. Besides, the unbalanced U.S. government policy on this issue resulted in numerous violations of Islamic people’s basic rights – detention and interrogation of them without charge, mandatory interviews, and denial of legal council. To keep their image of a nation of strong democracy, the U.S. have to employ more reasonable policy toward Islamic people and make efforts to change the image of enemy associated with Islamic people in American public opinion.
Status of Islamic People in the U.S. after 9/11: Life under Pressure
The al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001 (hereinafter referred to as ‘9/11’) on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are repeatedly depicted as having ‘changed America forever’. Whether or not such hyperbole is completely justified, there can be little doubt of the reverberations of the event in all spheres of American life in general and the lives of Islamic people living in the United States in particular.
Four years went by from that horrible day demolished the lives of 3000 innocent civilian people along with it. The world-wide lesson of terrorism has been taught, but till now it is not learnt thoroughly. It remains unlearned just because as usual not a reason rules the world but the passions. In answer to that onrush against the US American public opinion responded with intolerance and anger upon everything relating to Islamic world often associating all Muslims living in their country with terrorists. Sociological surveys conducted during last four years after 9/11 demonstrated that Americans consider Islam to be socially dangerous religion and a basis for terrorism (Mukherjee, 2003).
The purpose of this study is to investigate what effects 9/11 had on life of Islamic people, their integration and assimilation in the United States. Toward this end we will explore how this event reflected in everyday life of Muslims living in the U.S., explore what permanent impact it had on the unfolding of the articulation of Islam in the American public square, analyze the U.S. government policy toward Islamic people in the aftermath of 9/11, and make the conclusion.
The Islamic Community in the United States
There are no accurate figures for the number of Muslims in the United States. Neither the census data, nor the records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, provide any information on religious affiliation of American citizens or immigrants (Pipes & Duran, 2002, p. 50). Consequently, there exists a great disparity in the estimates of their number in the U.S. The estimates range between four million (Mukherjee, 2003, p. 30) and as many as six-nine million (Livengood & Stodolska, 2004, p. 184).
While the numbers are contested, it is generally agreed that they are significant. The majority of them arrived during the last third of the twentieth century (Shakir, 2003). The community is still in the process of being formed and reformed as policies by the American government regulate the flow of immigrants from the Islamic world. Legislation limiting immigration, as well as American foreign policy and the prevailing American prejudice against Muslims and Islam, has at times accelerated and at other times impeded the integration and assimilation of the community into American society (Akram, 2002). The Islamic community in the U.S. is noted for its diversity, which is evident in its ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, sectarian, tribal, and national identities (Pipes & Duran, 2002), while, as researches studying this community argued, most its members viewed themselves as loyal and law-abiding Americans demonstrating commitment to the U.S. as their second motherland, to the U.S.’ interests and values (Alavi, 2001). For instance, in 1993, when a new organization of Islamic community came into existence, the North American Association of Muslim Professionals and Scholars (NAAMPS), at its inaugural meeting, Fathi Osman, an internationally recognized Islamic scholar spoke with confidence about the Muslim future in America. He envisioned a new role for Muslims, one grounded not in fear or isolation, but in engagement with the society; not in retrenchment, but in exploration of new ways of leadership and participation. He saw the U.S. as an open venue for the development of new ideas and new visions. He challenged the Muslims of America blessed with this freedom to lead the revival of Islam in the world. He described the Muslims of the Arab world as ossified; they study Islam of the past, while the Muslims of the U.S. have the capacity to be the pioneers of a new interpretation that will help solve the problems Muslims face. They could envision new and unlimited possibilities and help bring about a brighter future (Osman, 1994, p. 16). This demonstrates good intentions of Islamic people who have chosen to live in the U.S. and loyalty of Islamic community in this country.
Life of Muslims in the U.S. after 9/11
Notwithstanding these good intention, long before 9/11 surveys of the media have documented the demonization of Muslims as the monolithic ‘outsiders’, the essential ‘others’, whose beliefs and customs are characterized as inferior, barbaric, sexist, and irrational (Mukherjee, 2003) – values worthy of repeated condemnation and eradication. The events of 9/11 have deepened this view and exaggerated the image of enemy and terrorist embodied in Islamic persons propagated by media.
The initial impact of 9/11 on the Islamic community was one of deep shock and fear of potential backlash. Muslims were subsequently surprised and pleased by the response of some in the Christian and Jewish community who supported them. They were grateful to the rabbis and ministers who volunteered to stand guard at mosques, schools, bookstores, and other Islamic institutions to keep avengers away (Ramstack, 2002). They were amazed at the number of American women who donned scarves for a day in solidarity with Muslim women who veil. They were also touched by the little gestures of kindness, of neighbors who offered to act as escorts or purchase groceries. They were pleased that Americans were finally interested in Islam and were reading about the religion and getting acquainted with the tenets of their faith (Hallak & Quina, 2004). In response to 9/11 sermons in mosques have been restricted to devotional topics (Akram, 2002).
Another noticeable change was the prominence of Muslim women in the public square. While a few, feeling threatened by a feeling of insecurity and vulnerability, took off the veil to avoid attacks, many put it on. Many Muslim women began to assume important positions in the administration of Islamic institutions, as spokespersons and defenders of the community. They raised funds for the victims of 9/11 and coordinated blood drives for the wounded. They also marched to protest discrimination against Muslims (Hallak & Quina, 2004). Still, many felt that because of their ethnicity or religious affiliation they no longer had the luxury to disagree with government policy. While freedom of thought is a right for all Americans, there seemed to be an exception if the Americans are Islamic people (Akram, 2002). The policy of “You are either with us or against us” declared by President Bush appeared to have no room for an independent interpretation of what it means to be Muslim.
Terrorist attacks of 9/11 provided the catalyst for the construction of a hegemonic discourse of the Muslim terrorist. Hundreds of hate-based incidents were documented in testimony submitted to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by the Arab American Institute (AAI) for the first month after September 11. They ranged from street-level words of harassment to government detention and interrogation of Muslims. The testimony read: “In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Arab Americans found themselves the targets of incidents of hate and bias. […] They are suffering more so than other businesses because of the negative stereotypes that have been generated” (Ramstack, 2002, D08). The testimony pointed out that while the entire U.S. economy was down from recession, Muslim businesses were down an additional 10 percent. The hardest hit was the mini-markets and gasoline stations, in which customers had an option of driving a few more blocks to buy from a competitor (Ramstack, 2002). Muslim employees of corporations also reported frequent discrimination. Employers often were inclined to fire persons basing only their Islamic ancestry. Workplace discrimination was common. The most common complaint was unfair discharge. Second most common was ethnic or religious harassment on the job. Arab employees of airlines and aviation companies lodged many of the complaints (Mukherjee, 2003).
In the surveys conducted after 9/11 Islamic people living in the U.S. marked the main three kinds of stressors in their life: overt discrimination and prejudice against them and their family members because of their faith or appearance, a lack of understanding of their culture, and extremely negative media images of Muslims (Hallak & Quina, 2004, p. 332). These surveys demonstrated that Muslim women first experienced overt hostility, fear, suspicion and negative or degrading treatment. They reported this made their everyday life almost unbearable: “Whenever I go shopping, the security guards come really behind us
[…] [as] if I have a bomb strapped on. […] The first thing I have to face every day is in the media when they show like, if you see CNN or any other news they will show Muslims
like every one is ignorant” (Hallak & Quina, 2004, p. 333).
The multiple acts of verbal terror on Islamic people, both men and women, had disrupted their sense of security in the U.S., and they openly recalled a period of anger at the whole country. Many men, in their turn, have highlighted such acts of their harassment as mandatory interviews, detainment without charge, and denial of legal council (Akram, 2002, p. 99). In public speeches immediately after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush suggested that Islamic Americans would not be targeted by the state and “should be treated with the ‘tolerance’ they deserve” (Owens, 2004, p. 285). Despite these rhetorical assurances, the actual practice showed that Muslims in the U.S. have been really threatened. Scholars admit that the treatment of Muslims as well as immigration scares have always historically been mixed up with allegations that something ‘essentially American’ is in jeopardy. Strawson (2003) argues that “the fanatical Muslim warrior threatening civilization has been an enduring image in the West since the Crusades” (p. 17). Undoubtedly these phobias exaggerated in the aftermath of 9/11. Especially, immigration scares occur principally during eras of political uncertainty and economic decline. Besides, Mukherjee (2003) pointed out that in such periods a phenomenon of “super-patriotism” takes place (p. 31). Since the day of the 9/11 attacks, Americans have emerged in numbers stripped flag T-shirts, baseball caps etc. and claimed a newfound patriotism and spirit of unity. These public demonstrations of patriotism have been accompanied by a series of vicious and violent attacks on Muslim-looking people, as well as incidents of vengeful retribution against visible ‘others’ perceived by untrained eyes to be suspect in the attack (Akram, 2002). The most common among these retaliations were campaign of exclusion and humiliation and include, as it was discussed above, verbal assaults, vandalism, workplace harassment, and boycotts of Muslim-owned shops and businesses (Mukherjee, 2003). There were reported also numerous cases of panics among passengers when persons having Middle Eastern names or appearances were on board of airplanes. As crew and passengers expressed fear to fly with them, they had to refuse the flight (Livengood & Stodolska, 2004). In respond to such attitude of Americans Muslims often try to not speak in Arabic as they wait for their flights at airports nationwide, to not travel with their copies of the Quran or in groups of more than two or three, and have to accept delays, rigorous airport security checks, humiliations, and targeted harassment as part of their travel experiences (Mukherjee, 2003).
Undoubtedly, such behavior toward Muslim Americans raises moral questions, for nothing but racism can explain the targeted harassment described in these cases. In addition to negative attitude of American community to Islamic people some deeds by Bush’s administration aggravate situation.
The U.S. Government Policy toward Islamic People after 9/11
Realizing negative state of public opinion to Muslims as the respond on the events of 9/11, President Bush and government were concerned about the possibility of hate crimes against Muslims, and President expressed this immediately after his visit to a Washington mosque, saying that those who feel they can intimidate Muslim-American citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent just the worst of humankind. In an effort to calm public anger, but to the consternation of many of his supporters, he declared Islam a religion of peace (Owen, 2004, p. 285).
But contradicting his own the President backed legislation that expanded the power of the federal government to arrest people on suspicion, and most of those detained were Muslims. Bush also agreed to freeze the assets of the nation’s largest Muslim charity because of its record of supporting the terrorist group Hamas (Pipes & Duran, 2002). As soon as in November, 2001, the Department of State had already declared it reduced the process of issuing visas for men in age from 16 up to 45 from certain Muslim countries, and put intensified scrutiny of visa applications from those countries in operation (Akram, 2002, p. 71). This reflected in numerous deportations of Islamic people, refusals to issue visas for education and immigration purposes.
For Muslims, the most distressing measure adopted by the government in response to 9/11 was HR3162, commonly known as USA PATRIOT (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act of October 24, 2001, which has in essence lifted all legal protection of liberty for Muslims and Arabs in the United States. It sanctioned the monitoring of individuals, organizations, and institutions without notification. Its provisions have been protested by the American Bar Association, the American Librarians Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Several Arab and Muslim organizations have recently sued the American government insisting that this act is un-American (Akram, 2002). In it evident that this Act is completely incompatible with basic civil liberties, most notably freedom from unreasonable search and seizure by the government guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Moreover, sometimes President Bush and White House officials publicly expressed views provoking extremely negative reaction from Muslims not only in the U.S., but from beyond. In an area, such as the world of Islam, where the faith merges the secular and the religious, listing Tehran and Baghdad as components of an axis of evil sounded to the Muslim populace as if Islam itself was being attacked under the cover of the war on terror. (El-Ayouty, 2004, p. 118). Such deeds deepen confrontation and do not facilitate calming of public opinion, which was intended by President.
Muslim community in the U.S. has also been greatly distressed by the security measures adopted by the Bush Administration, which were perceived as anti-Muslim, rather than anti-terrorism. The measures included a declared war on a Muslim definition of the role of women in society. The American government has set up a bureaucracy in the Department of State specifically engaged in liberating the women of Islam. The question was whether this liberation was from Islam and its values (Hallak & Quina, 2004). Other measures include the monitoring of NGOs, civic, charitable, and religious organizations. Out of fear of transfer of funds to terrorist organizations, the American government has in effect assumed a veto power over one of the basic tenets of the Islamic faith by monitoring charities and organizations that support orphans and widows overseas (Pipes & Duran, 2002).
The discussed policy of the U.S. authorities shows that notwithstanding declared tolerance their employ measures which contradict American democratic values and violate basic human rights.
The conducted study demonstrates that the tragic events of 9/11 became an apparent challenge to the human rights and social justice imperative of Islamic people in the U.S. The shocking al-Qaeda attack resulted in a recognizable and unsurprising reaction in the U.S. on two fronts: state policy purposely targeting Islamic people and violence on a national scale against them – assaults, vandalism, and workplace harassment. As the government declared its war on terrorism, the Administration and federal agencies implemented one set of policies after another aimed at Muslim community. Certainly the United States government has been attempting to play an important role in reformulation of Islam in the minds of Americans by its high attempts to identify a ‘moderate Islam’, one that is definitively different from that espoused by those who perpetrated the attacks and justified their actions by reference to the religion of Islam, but these attempts failed. The cause of this is that authorities’ declarations differ substantially from their deeds.
It is evident that being traditionally considered as a bastion of democracy in the world, the United States have to change such state of things employing balanced policy toward Islamic people, both American citizens and immigrants, and undertaking measures to change the image of enemy associated with Muslims in the minds of Americans.
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