September 11th, 2001 (9/11), is a day that will long be remembered in small ways and in big ways. That morning, many families said goodbyes to their loved ones, not realizing it would be their last time together. On a larger scale, 9/11 will be remembered as an event that reshaped the mindset and perspectives of the entire nation, as it quickly launched a Global War on Terror, known as GWOT. The attacks that day included planes crashing into the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, and into a field in Pennsylvania, killing approximately 3,000 innocent people, almost all civilians (Engel, par. 1).
Not only was 9/11 a terrifying, tragic, and heartbreaking event for the nation, it would spark enormous social hostility against Arab and Muslim Americans, who quickly became subject to prejudices and racial hostility. This is due to the religious affiliation of the plane hijackers, most of whom were Saudi Arabians. Since that fateful day, the negative perceptions of many Americans against Arab and Muslim populations in America has resulted in racial profiling, hate crimes and violence.
Arab and Muslim Americans were collectively stigmatized in the US in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. This stigmatization was only strengthened by the numerous US wars fought in Muslim countries after 9/11, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, which quickly became military “quagmires” that persist today. In fact, after 9/11, negative connotations and racial profiling toward Arabs and Muslims escalated with the American government pursing the kind of policies in American Muslim communities that were reminiscent of the sorts of policies carried out against Japanese Americans during WWII, only not as severe.
In the weeks after 9/11, The Patriot Act was passed by Congress (USA Patriot Act 1). Attorney General Ashcroft began the enforcement of this law by ordering law enforcement agencies to perform random searches and interviews of over 5,000 Muslim men between the ages of 18 and 33. The list of suspect individuals was created exclusively on the basis of national origin and outward appearance. The government had no credible information that these men were involved in acts of treason or even in terrorist ideologies. Nonetheless, the operation proceeded (Sanctioned Bias 5). The lives of innocent men were disrupted as they were forcefully removed from their homes and places of work solely as a result of racial profiling and aggressive police-state tactics. This was a clear violation of human rights, as well as blatant religious discrimination. However, the mass of Americans believed that if a young man looked like the terrorists who committed the 9/11 attacks, then they must be affiliated with terrorism, and thus represented a dangerous, national threat.
Prior to 9/11, Arab and Muslim Americans faced scrutiny because of their cultural differences, particularly in relation to the appearance of Arab and Muslim men and women. For example, a Muslim-American girl who grew up in New Jersey was bullied and mocked at school for wearing her hijab. One of her classmates even referred to it as a “tablecloth (Obeidallah, par. 2).” This girl’s school community did not accept her because of her differing appearance, religious background and cultural beliefs. In another case, a Muslim boy wore a traditional male head covering, a kufi, to school. He was told the garment was a distraction because his classmates would be tempted to steal it and poke fun at him (Abdurraqib, par. 3). Thus, he felt pressured by society to remove the head piece to conform to American standards of “normalcy.” While both of these are small-scale examples of prejudice, they indicate how bias against Muslims played out in the real world in thousands of people’s lives. American tend to congratulate themselves on being accepting of all people regardless of race or religious affiliation. But these examples of the “outsider-insider culture” became common place after the 9/11 attacks, undermining the long-held belief in American social tolerance.
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Ultimately, after 9/11, America’s hostile attitude toward its own Arab and Muslim American citizens intensified (Considine, par. 29). The different culture and customs of Arabs and Muslims brought unsolicited attention and harassment as the wars in Muslim countries dragged on and American soldiers began returning home injured and broken. Unfortunately, there was little that Muslim-immigrant communities could do to counteract these prejudices because their image to most Americans was forever altered due to the 9/11 attacks and the ongoing wars.
In Arab and Muslim culture, women wear the highly visible hijab to maintain their modesty and privacy. It represents “mystique, exoticism, eroticism, fantasy and excitement” (Jones 445). However, post 9/11, the hijab just made it easier to target them. Editor Amelia Jones states, “…the veil is viewed as an object of mystique, exoticism and eroticism and the veiled woman as an object of fantasy, excitement and desire is now replaced by the xenophobic, more specifically Islamophobic…” (Jones 445). The open hostility to women who wear the hijab is a good example of how 9/11 has shaped society’s views of these people in a negative way.
9/11 has not only influenced the increase of hate crimes and violence against Arab and Muslim Americans domestically, but also internationally. One example of this was seen in Islamberg, located in Upstate New York, when four men from Rochester planned to attack this Muslim community. They had assembled crude bombs made of mason-jar sized filled with black powder and nails. They had collected 23 guns among them (Gold, par. 5 and 16). The authorities were able to apprehend the culprits before they were able to carry out any serious acts of violence.
In addition, acts of hate and violence are being seen around the world, specifically in Christchurch, New Zealand. On March 15th, 2019, Brenton H. Tarrant, a white Australian man, open fired at two mosques killing 50 and injuring 40 people. Before the attacks, this man live streamed his written manifesto about anti-immigration and anti-Muslim on Facebook (Van Sant, par.1). This raises the question of contemporary media, particularly social media, in shaping the minds of the people who carry out violent acts. More acts of hate and violence are not going to change what happened on 9/11. Yet, the hostility and prejudice online seem to grow and amplify, much like the growing and expanding wars in Muslim and Arab countries, now including Libya and others, with consequences equally disastrous as the other wars. A case could be made that, on both small and large scales, we cannot stop ourselves from making a bad situation far worse.
This tendency to make things worse can be seen in the way that the 9/11 attacks, which were executed through airplane hijackings, has led to increased racial profiling at airports. Post 9/11, “…airlines have subjected such passengers to heightened security screening and denied them passage based solely on the belief that ethnicity or national origin increases passengers’ flight risk” (Chandrasekhart, par. 2). Racially profiling a passenger based on their ethnicity or national origin is a violation of civil liberties, as law enforcement is acting on suspicion without evidence of intent of wrongdoing or even probable cause. The government is supposed to keep the people safe and protect their rights, regardless of religious affiliation or cultural beliefs.
The people who died on 9/11 and their family members were only the initial victims of an act that has spiraled out into the nation and the world in waves of chaos and destruction. It’s important that we, as a society that cares about its vulnerable members, no matter what race or religion, not forget how the lives of Arab and Muslim Americans were changed forever. Whether we admit it or not, they continue to be subjected to religious discrimination, racial profiling, and violent attacks in their communities and religious settings. As citizens of America, we the people need to be more aware of our actions in our communities and our world. We need to avoid the impulsive prejudices against other races and religions, especially when these prejudices, which begin at home, spread out into wars all across the Middle East, resulting in epic suffering for everyone.
- Abdurraqib, Hanif. “For Muslims In The US, There’s Before 9/11 And There’s After.” Buzzfeed News, Buzzfeed, 11 Sept. 2017, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hanifabdurraqib/before-911-muslims-were-a-curiosity-now-were-targets.
- Chandrasekhart, Charu A. “Flying While Brown: Federal Civil Rights Remedies to Post-9/1 1 Airline Racial Profiling of South Asians.” Asian Law Journal, vol. 10, 2003, pp. 217.
- Considine, Craig. “The Racialization of Islam in the United States: Islamophobia, Hate Crimes, and ‘Flying while Brown.’” Religions 8.9, Aug. 2017, pp. 9. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090165.
- Engel, Pamela, and Ellen Ioanes. “What Happened on 9/11, 18 Years Ago.” Business Insider, Insider, Inc., 10 Sept. 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/what-happened-on-911-why-2016-9.
- Gold, Michael. “4 Arrested and 23 Guns Seized in Plot Against Muslim Enclave in Upstate N.Y.” NYTimes, A.G. Sulzberger, 24 Jan. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/nyregion/islamberg-attack-muslim-community.html.
- Jones, Amelia, editor. The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Routledge, 2010.
- Obeidallah, Dean. “This is Life for Muslim-Americans 18 Years After 9/11.” Daily Beast, IAC, 11 Sept. 2019, https://www.thedailybeast.com/this-is-life-for-muslim-americans-18-years-after-911?ref=scrollyears-after-911?ref=scroll.
- Sanctioned Bias: Racial Profiling Since 9/11. American Civil Liberties Union, Feb. 2004.
- The USA Patriot Act: Impact on the Arab and Muslim American Community. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 2004.
- Van Sant, Shannon. “Accused Shooter in New Zealand Mosque Attacks Charged with Terrorism.” NPR, Core Publisher, 21 May 2019, https://www.npr.org/2019/05/21/725390449/accused-shooter-in-new-zealand-mosque-attacks-charged-with-terrorism