Islamophobia and American Policy

The Influence of 9/11/01 on Policies and Islamophobia Within America

Nicholas Knight, December 2018

On September 11, 2001, nineteen members of Al-Qaeda, a violent terrorist group hijacked four United States airplanes, and targeted different key locations along the East Coast. This terrorist attack was committed against the United States during a time where they believed themselves to be removed from the dangers of terrorism, leaving them unprepared for Al-Qaeda’s most violent terrorist attack. Two of the hijacked airplanes crashed into the Twin Towers located at the World Trade Center, crumbling the structures and resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. The third airplane crashed into the Pentagon, the United States military headquarters, killing 189 people. The fourth airplane failed to reach its presumed destination of the Capitol of Washington, instead crashing in Pennsylvania, resulting in the deaths of all 44 passengers [1].

Al-Qaeda consists of radicalized people who practice the Muslim religion, and consider the freedoms granted to United States citizens as evil and corrupting. They set themselves up as disillusioned guardians, and commit atrocious terrorist crimes against innocent people to spread their messages of hate, and seek recruitment for their cause. They believe their purpose is to prevent the spread of American freedoms to other countries, and go through with wicked acts on various groups of people to instill fear into them [2]. Most Muslims, including Muslim-Americans do not share any beliefs of Al-Qaeda, with many instead celebrating the freedoms granted to them as American citizens. Before this attack, it was believed anything close to this catastrophe was impossible, and as a result of this event, American policies have become stricter in foreign relations, declared war on terrorism, and heightened immigration restrictions [3]. This attack committed over seventeen years ago, continues to actively influence the lives Americans lead. This purpose of this assignment is to heighten awareness of this event to better the American perception of the Muslim people and their beliefs, and protect against discrimination due to racial bias.          

Shifting Focus Towards Security

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks America’s focus shifted towards security and terrorist prevention. This shift would lead to the instatement of a new federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. This department’s mission is to ensure the security of America against any potential threats. This department has responsibility for border security, cyber-security, to chemical inspection in order to deter possible attacks [4]. In response to the attacks, American legislators acted to strengthen the security of the nation by signing the Patriot Act of 2001. This act sought to unite and strengthen America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism, as the act is named for. The Patriot Act was designed with the aim to enhance domestic security against terrorism, strengthen border security, and improve surveillance and information procedures in hopes of allowing officers a more efficient and effective means of handling terrorist matters. The Information Awareness Office was also created as a response to these attacks in 2002. This office initiated the Total Information Awareness amended in May 2003 [5]. This program was intended to ensure the security of American citizens from terrorism by exponentially expanding the amount of information and data the government was allowed access to on all citizens to better predict terrorist trends and activity.

Overall, America was widely split and continued to heavily debate on the sacrifice of personal privacy, and how much limitation of American citizen’s freedoms is necessary in order to ensure their security against future threats. These acts gave the American government strength and control over citizen lives to a never before realized extent. The heightened fear felt towards Muslim and Middle Eastern foreigners as a result of the September attacks acts to further support the use of America’s newfound authority and power [6]. These foreigners were unfairly targeted due to these fears, and many foreign individuals and groups were denied access, refused visas, were screened, investigated, and arrested. In the search for threats related to Al-Qaeda, perceptions became skewed, disproportionate, and unfairly targeted Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians [7]. In a time where people were under great distress, and feared for another terrorist attack, the government acted against the principles of the rights derived from the constitution.

Despite having dozens of casualties, Muslims have all been blamed for the attack on the World Trade Center. This unjustified blaming of their group of people dehumanized American Muslims, and resulted in greater mistreatment. This is demonstrated with the case of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a Muslim medic who rushed into the tragedy to save lives. He was killed in the debris and was suspected of being a terrorist for months after the event, because of his ethnicity, and wasn’t regarded as the hero he was until people realized his background. Muslims became the suspects across the world, and the Justice Department began a series of some of the most threatening to liberty policies and actions in America. Scholars estimated that over 200,000-500,000 Muslims were subjugated to an extremely intrusive interrogation process. The records show over 18,000 Muslims have been deported, over 15,000 Muslims were detained or arrested, and the Inspector General of the Justice Department revealed the extra ordinary legal and illegal actions committed to imprisoned Muslims [8]. America received great strength and support after the 9/11/01 attacks, but at the cost of a great limitation of citizen’s freedoms. These limitations being stricter against certain populations and groups of people in relation to immigration demonstrates the tremendous negative impact the events of 9/11 had on American society.            

Islamophobia and Countering Prejudice

After the September 11 Attacks, along with the shifting in American policies, laws, and agencies, people’s fear of terrorism and the obscureness of Muslims, Islam, and Jihad rose in conjunction. Islamophobia is defined as the intolerance, hatred, fear, or prejudice towards Islam or Muslims that results in discrimination, marginalization, and oppression. This prejudice results in distorted views of Islam and Muslims, stereotyping language, ethnicity, and culture resulting in religious and racial antipathy. Islamophobia manifests in multiple forms at individual and institutional levels. These acts can include physical attacks on Muslim people, Mosques, and Islamic centers; biased law enforcement profiling, discrimination in employment and services; and anti-Islam policies and legislation. Islamophobia spawns from places such as the U.S Islamophobia Network, negative American foreign policy, poor media representation, politicians, and violent extremists. Islamophobia directly impacts Muslim men, women, and children, as well as people who share similar languages, clothing, and or skin color [9].

The Executive Order 13769, more commonly known as the Muslim ban was issued by President Donald Trump on January 27, 2017, and was superseded by Executive Order 13780 on March 16, 2017. Executive Order 13780 lowered the number of refugees to 50,000 admitted into the United States in 2017, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and prevented entry of Syrian refugees. The United States immigration policies suspended entry from countries failing to meet immigration standards including, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The tensions between the government and Americans with Muslims continued to rise, and was portrayed in the continuous orders, and the poor treatment of American Muslims by other fellow Americans. With this continued rise of tension, intervention became more essential to the insurance of everyone’s rights, and the guaranteed protection of American Muslims from hateful bias.

The battle to control Islamophobia is a difficult one; convincing people to forgo their previous religious and racial animosities requires dedication, support, and resources. There are steps individuals and communities can commit to in order to help in this effort including supporting local and national groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR. The CAIR organization’s mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims holding the core principle of defending everyone’s freedoms of expression and religion. The CAIR organization has compiled a list of small but impactful ways people can contribute to the betterment of all Americans and assist against crimes sprung through Islamophobia. Individuals can work on practical community projects with people of diverse backgrounds building relationships and solving shared problems. Organize groups with multiple community leaders to discuss current policies that negatively impact Muslim people, and propose revisions. To spin negative situations into positive ones such as making the vandalizing of places of worship into a community effort to repair and clean the damages demonstrating the strength of the unrelenting movement. Lastly, it is increasingly important to remain calm, polite, and assertive in stressful situations, or when confronted with people filled with hate and disdain for these groups in order to successfully demonstrate the nature of the Muslim people, and to refrain from coming across as rude poorly reflecting your cause [10].      

Conclusion

The United States of America is an incredibly diverse nation effectively becoming a “melting pot,” however, with the events of the September 11 attacks perceptions became skewed. The United States government and many citizens felt fear, and this fear predicted great changes in policies, new laws, and the formations of agencies. This event and the fear it instilled caused an incredible sacrifice of the rights of our people in the search of greater security. This sacrifice continues deeper in the prejudice and oppression of people who can be stereotyped by Islamophobia into groups based on their appearance, language, and clothing. In order to overcome these shifted views that derived from a devastating event of over seventeen years ago, it has become increasingly essential for individuals to come together to assist in the effort of controlling Islamophobia and repairing the damages that are dealt as a result in America.   

 

Notes

[1] Sageman, Marc. Leaderless Jihad. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2008.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security. https://www.dhs.gov/topics

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid  

[7] Muzaffar Chishti, Claire Bergeron. Post-9/11 Policies Dramatically Alter the U.S. Immigration Landscape. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/post-911-policies-dramatically-alter-us-immigration-landscape/

[8] Mohammad Salman Hamdani, Impact of 9/11 on Muslim Americans. Sound Vision. https://www.soundvision.com/article/impact-of-911-on-muslim-americans  

[9] Counter Islamophobia Project, CAIR. Islamophobia 101. http://www.islamophobia.org/research/islamophobia-101.html

[10] Ibid

Further Reading

CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Gould, E D and E F Klor (2014) “The long-run effect of 9/11: Terrorism, backlash and the assimilation of Muslim immigrants in the West”, The Economic Journal, forthcoming.

Teaching Tolerance, American Muslims in the United States. 

 

Worcester State University Fall 2020