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IPA Voices That Must Be Heard

Muslims in post-September 11th America

Mirror International, 31 December 1969. English language.

As the nation commemorates the horrific events of last September, the U.S. media is asking Muslims, has your life changed since the tragedy? The question seems obvious and the answer even more so.

The changes brought on by the indefensible violence of September 11th are profound and long lasting for Muslims, especially those living in America. Muslims—both indigenous and immigrant—have come to view life in this country in ways they had never envisioned before.

Although Muslim leaders at home and abroad have roundly condemned the inhumanity of September 11th, some within the United States have urged Muslims to do more. Muslims have written and spoken in the media about that fateful day; imams at various mosques have delivered Friday sermons; Islamic centers have held open houses; and Muslims generally have reached out to non-Muslim neighbors and coworkers. Yet, some think it is not enough. One wonders if similar demands would have been made had the alleged perpetrators been Christian?

September 11th has also brought out the good and bad in American society. There are touching stories of non-Muslims buying groceries for their fearful Muslim neighbors and guarding Muslim coworkers against harassment. Some non-Muslim women wore hijab (the Islamically mandated head covering) to show solidarity with their Muslim counterpart, many of whom became a visible target of the anti-Muslim backlash that swept the country. Then there is the story of a non-Muslim woman looking compassionately at a young Muslim mother being stared at in a store and bursting into tears as their eyes met.

While these incidents inspired us all in a moment of national despair, there were others that shattered the image of America as a tolerant society.

The anti-Muslim backlash that began after September 11th found expression in passenger profiling, hate speeches, violence against Muslim individuals and places of worship, and murder. Muslim men and women were bullied, insulted and discriminated against. Even observant Sikhs were attacked because their turban and long beards made them appear Muslim.

Much of the initial public hostility has subsided, but the actions of the U.S. government, some Christian clergymen and the so-called “conservative” columnists continue to make life difficult for Muslim Americans.

In contrast with President George Bush’s early attempts to calm Muslim fears, his government has since engaged in actions that are clearly hostile to Muslims both at home and abroad. At home, the administration arrested more than 1,200 Muslims and kept them imprisoned with almost no civil or legal rights granted an accused by the U.S. Constitution. These were mostly visa violators, a small fraction of the undocumented aliens that live in this country. Not a single Al Qaeda was netted.

Moreover, the government closed down several respectable Islamic charities, raided homes of some prominent Muslim Americans, and resorted to extra-judicial measures to keep detained Muslims in jail indefinitely.

Abroad, the Bush administration went to war with Afghanistan, where it seems entrenched in an unpalatable situation for years to come. It has declared Iraq and Iran part of an “axis of evil” and is poised for another full-blown attack against Baghdad. American armed forces are helping several foreign governments against Muslim groups. All of it severely weakens the government’s contention that it is not at war with Islam.

Apparently, emboldened by the government’s loose-canon attitude, some Christian clergymen have come out swinging against Islam, with Franklin Graham calling it “a very evil and wicked religion.” Another man of collar, Jerry Vines, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has defamed the Prophet Muhammad.

Yet another kind of offensive against Muslims is coming from a segment of the media. For example, author and conservative commentator Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly of Fox Network TV are firing regular salvos at Islam and Muslims. Ms. Coulter has suggested that America should invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. Mr. O’Reilly has compared the summer reading of a book on the Qu’ran at UNC Chapel Hill with that of Hitler’s Mein Kampf during the Second World War. Another writer has advocated that the United States should “nuke” Mecca.

To go back to the media’s question, yes, the life of Muslims in this country has changed, maybe forever. But so has the lives of all Americans. If Muslim-Americans are ostracized, their civil rights gradually taken away and their religion pilloried, the whole society loses to its acquiescence. Currently, we are witnessing another period in American history where the abuse of governmental power and bigotry against a minority are committed with impunity.

Need Muslims reiterate that September 11th was an affront to Islam, and that none of the hijackers came from the American Muslim community? The infamous attack against America was rooted in our failed foreign policy. That’s what needs to be changed, not the cherished American values of civil rights, freedom and the rule of law.

This article appeared in Edition 33 of Voices That Must Be Heard.

Included by permission of Mirror International.