Muslims in America – Four Years After 9/11

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Four years ago America’s sense of invulnerability on its own soil was shattered when two hijacked planes crashed separately into the twin towers of the WTC causing each to collapse. Since that momentous event, 9/11 has become an important anniversary. Not this year though. It was totally overshadowed by the Katrina disaster.

The anniversary also came at a time when President Bush’s approval rating was at an all time low with everything from the war in Iraq to oil price seemingly going in the wrong direction.

My friends and family members, living outside the United States, often ask me about how the aftermath has been for Muslims living in America. Answering the question is not as simple because one’s personal experiences would vary depending on the location one lives in, the job one does, the interaction one maintains both within and outside the Muslim community, etc. While the full dimension of backlash against Muslim Americans may never be known, from the reports I have been able to read and hear, there is no doubt that the last four years have been anything but pleasant for most Muslim Americans. This is because of the alleged involvement of some young Muslims hijackers with the attack on America on that fateful day. As for me, I hardly now perform congregational prayers in Islamic centers and mosques. I also don’t deliver as many lectures on Islam and Muslim issues that I used to do. I know of many Muslims who don’t frequent Islamic centers as often as they used to.

In July 2002, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) polled 945 Muslims to find how 9/11 has affected them. Forty-eight percent of the respondents said that their lives had changed for the worse since 9/11 while 57% reported experiencing an act of bias or discrimination, ranging from disparaging remarks to a hate crime. [1]

Many new Muslim immigrants have clustered in certain jobs, notably as small business owners, running gas stations, convenience stores, motels, and as cab drivers. This may account for the prevalence of backlash victims among persons with these occupations. Two of the three 9/11-related murders for which charges have been brought were of convenience store workers. The third murdered victim was a gas station owner. The taxi dispatch services in many major cities reported that after 9/11 they had received threatening calls saying that their Muslim and Arab taxi workers would be killed. [2]

According to a 2002 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report “The September 11 Backlash” [3] (against Muslims and Arabs): “Mosques and places of worship perceived to be mosques appeared to be among the most likely places of September 11-related backlash violence. SAALT’s (South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow) survey of bias incidents reported in major news media found 104 bias incidents against places of worship reported during the first week after September 11. [4] … Although September 11 backlash violence against individual Arabs and Muslims decreased markedly by November 2001, attacks continued against mosques or houses of worship perceived to be Arab or Muslim. On November 19, 2001, four teenagers burned down the Gobind Sadan, a multi-faith worship center in Oswego, New York, because they believed the worshippers were supporters of Osama Bin Laden. On March 25, 2002, a man who stated to police that he hated Muslims crashed his pickup truck into a mosque in Tallahassee, Florida thirty minutes after evening prayers.[5] On June 11, 2002, in Milipitas, California, vandals broke into a mosque under construction, scrawled derogatory remarks such as, "F- Arabs" and damaged the interior of a construction trailer near the mosque.[6] On August 24, 2002, federal authorities announced they had discovered a plan by a doctor in Tampa Bay to bomb and destroy approximately 50 mosques and Islamic cultural centers in south Florida. The doctor’s home contained rocket launchers, sniper rifles and twenty live bombs.” [7]

As to job-related discrimination, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 488 complaints as of May 2002. Of these, 301 involved persons who were fired from their jobs. A poll of Arab Americans conducted in May 2002 found that 20% had personally experienced job discrimination. [8]

In the pre-9/11 days, e.g., in 2000, the FBI received reports of 28 hate crimes (offenses motivated by race, religion, color, gender, etc.) against Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. In 2001, that number jumped to 481, most of these within weeks after 9/11. (The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, however, reported a higher figure; for instance, over 600 9/11-related hate crimes, committed against Arab Americans.)[9] What is important here is to realize that a U.S. Justice Department study found that a whopping 75% of hate crimes go unreported.[10] That means actual hate crimes could be four times the reported numbers.

Hate crimes against Muslim Americans increased by 121% to 1019 incidents in 2003, according to a report released on May 3, 2004 by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The report also showed that overall anti-Muslim incidents in the United States increased by almost 70% in 2003.[11]

In the last two years, while the sporadic violence against anyone resembling a Muslim or an Arab has subsided, the level of aggressive disrespect and intolerance of Islam, mistrust of and discrimination against Muslims at workplaces is showing no sign of receding. The root cause may lie elsewhere – in the spiteful and bigoted sermons emanating from the churches, synagogues, temples, radio talk show programs, TV shows (especially Fox and the evangelical ones), and public libraries.

Quoting CAIR, the Human Rights Watch reports that the number of violent acts, discriminatory incidents and cases of harassment against Muslims rose 49% between 2003 and 2004 to 1522. [12]

The other more worrisome matter is: hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs remain disproportionately high compared to their proportion. For example, in Texas Arabs make up only about 0.3% of population, but they are victims in 4% of all hate crimes. About 0.5% percent of Texans are Muslims, but they are victims in 2.8% of the reported hate crimes. [13]

Some notable victims of witch-hunting include Jose Padilla and Capt. Yee.

Jose Padilla, a convert to Islam, was declared an “enemy combatant” (indeed the only American declared as such) by Presidential order and ordered locked away in a military brig in South Carolina –” where he has languished since May 2002 in a windowless, 5-by-7-foot cell that is always brightly lit –” without an indictment, a trial or access to a lawyer. When a U.S. District Court ruled in early September of this year in favor of President Bush in the case of Jose Padilla –” it struck a major blow at the Constitution, upholding actions by the administration that Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has said have “created a unique and unprecedented threat to the freedom of every American citizen.” [14]

In September of 2003, Capt. James J. Yee, a 1990 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., another convert to Islam, who served as an Army Islamic chaplain and counseled prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base, was charged with espionage, aiding the enemy and spying. A year later, all charges against him were dropped. [15]

Few other Muslim members of the Armed forces were similarly harassed on cooked up charges of passing information to terrorists, only to be dropped later. [16]

Most Muslim places of worship are now monitored by the FBI and their informants to unearth Muslim radicalism. However, radical and hate sermons emanating from satellite channels and talk Radio shows, run by fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, are considered quite kosher and are routinely overlooked.

As to the backlash against Muslims in 2005, I provide below some random cases.

The Los Angeles Times in its June 4, 2005 issue reported that a suspicious fire gutted a 1500 square foot mosque in San Barnardino, California. The June 17, 2005 issue of the Washington Post reported that someone left a bag of burned Qur’ans in front of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg, Virginia.

Just three months ago, at the height of controversy over abuse of the Muslim Holy Book by U.S. military guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison, a sign in front of a Baptist church on one of the most traveled highways in the USA (at 2361 U.S. 221 South) read, “The Koran needs to be flushed.” To support the hateful message, its pastor Creighton Lovelace said, “I believe that it is a statement supporting the word of God and that it (the Bible) is above all and that any other religious book that does not teach Christ as savior and lord as the 66 books of the Bible teaches it, is wrong.” [17] He further said that it was the work of God to display the sign and that no one in the church had spoken against it.

The U.S. Congress has yet to name an independent investigative commission similar to the one conducted by the Sept. 11 commission to examine how the Qur’an-abuse occurred in prisons across Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, and to develop policies to prevent such offensive incidences.

As to witch-hunting, there seems to be no let down against Muslims and their organizations. Almost all of the money exchange and charitable organizations have been shut down, some facing criminal charges of abetting terrorist organizations in the Muslim world. Muslims are afraid to write donation cheques for fear that they may be accused of funneling money to terrorists. Who can deny the influence of Saffron dollars to help poisonous ideologies like Hindutva in India, responsible for so much carnage in the largest democracy on earth? How about funds that are raised by sympathizers of the rogue state Israel, responsible for killing thousands of unarmed Palestinians? But no eyebrows are raised for such fund-raising that kills Muslims overseas.

Just the last week, on Friday morning, September 24, federal agents raided a Muslim campground in Moodus, Connecticut, seizing specimens and seeds from datashak, a plant native to Bangladesh and India. Members of the FBI and U.S. Department of Agriculture said in documents that they also seized 19 computer discs and an assortment of documents from the 18-acre Town Street property, owned by Darul Uloom Shady Brook, Inc. The campground’s caretaker is from Bangladesh, who had cooked meal containing datashak at a recent summer camp, attended by some two dozen Muslim youths.[18]

Soon after the Madrid bombing, Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield, a convert to Islam, was arrested in connection with the bombings after being linked by the FBI to a fingerprint found near the scene. After spending two weeks in jail, the FBI acknowledged its mistake and Mayfield was released. He has lately filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that the federal government targeted him in the wake of the March Madrid train bombings because of his Muslim faith. In his suit, Mayfield challenges the constitutionality of the USA Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and says that the government violated his civil rights by searching his home and office, seizing his family’s belongings and holding him in jail. [19]

In December 2003, an Arizona newspaper published a very provocative letter from a Tucson resident that urged fellow Americans to kill Muslims to retaliate for the death of American soldiers in Iraq. It read, “Whenever there is an assassination or another atrocity, we should proceed to the closest mosque and execute five of the first Muslims we encounter.” Two Tucson Muslims filed a lawsuit claiming that the letter constituted an assault and an intentional inflection of emotional distress. Interestingly, in July of this year the state Supreme Court in a 5-0 unanimous decision ruled that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protected the right of the resident and the paper for the provocative letter.

Just imagine the kind of hullabaloo that would have generated if a Muslim had written a similar piece in any Muslim-majority country urging fellow Muslims to kill (just) one (and not five) Christian(s) for every Muslim killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the Anglo-American forces. No, I am not surprised with the verdict of the Arizona Supreme Court, but genuinely concerned at how murky the distinction between right and wrong is becoming. Remember how the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came to protect the right of free speech of General Boykin? It is these kinds of actions, condoning what most Muslims find offensive, that help breed hate crimes against Muslims. Spiteful and bigoted people take such as a license to do their evil acts. No wonder that there is such a mushrooming of hate literature in public libraries!

For every new post-9/11 book about Islam, available today in most public libraries, there are at least three that are written to vilify the faith and its adherents.[20] The world has not seen the preponderance of such hate literatures since the days of Hitler’s Germany. These hate books are used as arsenal in the contest to subjugate, strike down, compel and crush any Arab and Muslim resistance to western dominance.

And what to make of poisonous sermons and bigoted remarks from spiteful evangelical Christian priests like Pat Robertson, Hagee, Graham and other perverted bishops? [21]

While one can find excuses for the demented and depraved Christian pastor and the Tucson citizen, and also for bigoted and racist priests, ‘9/11-overnight-scholars,’ pen-pushing writers and their greedy publishers, how can one justify the remark of an elected member of the U.S. Congress – the Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo (Colorado) – who in July 2005 called for a nuclear attack on Islam’s holiest sites if there were to be another terrorist attack on the USA? [22]

In the aftermath of the London bombing of July 7, the pressure on Muslim American leadership from the various segments of the American society has been so acutely felt that on July 28, ’05, the Fiqh Council of North America had to issue a fatwa denouncing terrorism. Within a week, some 173 organizations, mosques and imams endorsed the fatwa. This is an interesting development given the fact that no other religious groups had been invoked to do such a thing for the alleged crimes committed by their fellow co-religionists. (Note: In terrorist activities, the Tamil Tigers, comprising Hindu rebels from Sri Lanka, are known to have committed more terrorist activities than any other group. I am not aware if the Vatican was ever swayed to condemning the past activities of the IRA. Interestingly, the United States remains the largest contributor to funding for the IRA.)

However, all is not gloom and doom for Muslims. One major step in improving America’s image in the Muslim world has been President Bush’s decision appointing Karen Hughes. She recently attended the 42nd ISNA conference in Chicago. In her brief talk, Ambassador Hughes elucidated the four E’s of her approach: Education, Empowerment, Engagement and Exchanges. She recognized the need to empower American Muslims so that they could become more effective ambassadors for Islam in America and the US in the Muslim World. She suggested that American Muslims and her department should work together to (1) advance a positive vision of hope and opportunity to the Muslim World, (2) isolate and marginalize forces of intolerance and violence, (3) foster a sense of common intent and common purpose and common values.

Ambassador Hughes recognizes that there are American ideologues who are continually preaching hatred against Islam and Muslims. Her success in public diplomacy in achieving the four goals will largely depend on her ability to keep in check the Islamophobic messages that consistently come from evangelical leaders, conservative talk shows and neoconservative columnists.

Notes:

[1]. "Poll: Majority of U.S. Muslims suffered post September 11 bias," Council on American-Islamic Relation, August 21, 2002, retrieved on August 28, 2002, from http://www.cair-net.org/asp/article.asp?
articleid=895&articletype=3.

[2]. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/usahate/usa1102-04.htm

[3]. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/usahate/usa1102-04.htm

[4]. South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, "American Backlash: Terrorists Bring War Home in More Ways Than One," retrieved on August 26, 2002, from http://www.saalt.org/biasreport.pdf

[5]. "Florida Mosque Attack Result of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric, Says CAIR," U.S. Newswire, March 26, 2002. Charles D. Franklin was indicted in federal court on April 17, 2002 for the alleged crime.

[6]. "Vandals Attack California Mosque Under Construction; Derogatory Remarks Written Inside Mosque, Police Suspect Hate Crime," U.S. Newswire, June 13, 2002.

[7]. Stephen Thompson, Paula Christian and Natashia Gregoire, "Agents Say Mosques Target Of Arsenal," Tampa Tribune, August 24, 2002.

[8]. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/usahate/usa1102-04.htm

[9]. ibid.

[10]. US Muslims suffer backlash by Kevin Anderson, BBC News Online in Washington, 19 November 2002.

[11]. http://www.amaweb.org/images/special/Muslims%20Meets%20with%20State%20Legislator%20(website).htm; http://www.amperspective.com/html/hate_crimes_report.html

[12]. Anti-Muslim hate crimes on the rise in U.S., HRWF Int. (17.05.2005)

[13]. Hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims up in ’04 by Anthony Spangler, Star-Telegraph, July 12, 2005.

[14]. http://www.laweekly.com/ink/05/43/news-ireland.php

[15]. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A26778-2004Sep16?language=printer

[16]. See, e.g. the case involving Ahmad al-Halabi: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/09/23/MNG2R8TFNF43.DTL

[17]. Church sign sparks debate by Josh Humphries, The Digital Courier, May 24, 2005.

[18]. http://www.courant.com/news/local/hc-atfbust0924.
artsep24,0,6228352.story

[19]. http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/paperchase/2004/10/oregon-lawyer-arrested-in-madrid.php

[20]. See this writer’s “Random Thoughts on Books about Islam and Muslims,” Media Monitors Network, 25 December, 2003.

[21]. The Philadelphia Inquirer, in its September 25, ’05 issue listed some 53 Catholic priests in the Philadelphia area that had for years sexually abused children, mostly boys. Instead of bringing these criminals to justice, they were often moved from one parish to another by the cardinal bishop.

[22]. The Associated Press reported on July 18, ’05 that Congressman Tancredo remarked, “If they nuke us, bomb Mecca.”

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