9/11 attacks hastened decline of American dream

September 11, 2020 - 7:38

TEHRAN – September 11, 2001, attacks on civilian and military targets in the U.S. delivered a major blow to the idea of the American dream in terms of inciting hate crimes against immigrants across the country, according to U.S. experts.

In a blow to the American dream, many Muslims and even non-Muslim immigrants were murdered or attacked in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The murder of a Sikh immigrant from India in Arizona was one of the first deadly hate crimes in the U.S. that turned the American dream into a nightmare for those immigrating to the U.S. in a quest for achieving the American dream.

The immigrant, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was in pursuit of the American dream of middle-class success, was murdered in a hate crime on September 15, 2001, only two weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Sodhi, who had a beard and wore a turban in accordance with his Sikh faith, was killed only because he looked like a Muslim.  His killer, Frank Silva Roque, a Boeing aircraft mechanic at a local repair facility who held a criminal record for an attempted robbery in California, mistook him for a Muslim. Roque complained to friends in a bar about immigrants and the September 11 attacks and expressed a desire for retaliation. When arrested, he proclaimed, “I am a patriot” and told authorities that he wanted “to kill a Muslim.”

Sodhi had sensed danger immediately after the 9/11 attacks. So he called his brother to find a solution to the dangers posed to the Sikhs.

“All Sikhs will be in trouble soon,” Sodhi’s brother recalled him saying. Referring to Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, he said, “The man they suspect, the one they show on television, has a similar face to us, and people don't understand the difference.”

In an attempt to express Sikh solidarity with fellow Americans and distinguish Sikhs from those behind the attacks, Sodhi helped organize a press conference for Sunday, September 16. However, he was shot dead on September 15 in a hate crime.

“Instead of obtaining the American dream of middle-class success, Sodhi experienced the American nightmare of hate and violence. Sodhi’s death is just one of many examples of growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and violence in the United States,” wrote Peter Liebhold in a report published by the National Museum of American History in 2019.

Analysts believe that the September 11 attacks played a major role in propagating Islamphobia across the U.S.  

“Mosques have been attacked in the years since the September 11 attacks,” Ja'afar Ghannadbashi, a West Asia expert, told the Tehran Times, adding that Islamophobia took hold following the September attacks.

According to Ghannadbashi, U.S. President Donald Trump has exacerbated the hatred toward Muslims by imposing a travel ban on Muslim majority countries.

Responding to a question on the American dream in the post-9/11 era, the expert also said that Trump has made efforts to replace the American dream with nationalism with no success.

In 2015, President Trump declared the American dream dead as he announced that he was running for president. Trump said, “Sadly, the American dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.”

One year later, Trump took office. Nearly four years into his administration, however, Trump apparently failed to bring back the American dream. In an echo of the 2016 presidential election – when the American dream was “dead” according to Trump – the U.S. president once again made the promise of making America great again a pillar of his 2020 election campaign, a tacit acknowledgment of his failure to bring back the American dream.

The American dream has incurred damage in the years after the September 11 attacks, according to Amirali Abolfath, a U.S. expert.

“American dream is a multidimensional concept. One dimension is germane to security and the citizens' and residents’ feeling of being secure in American society. Economic welfare is another dimension. The American dream used to mean that if you work hard you will achieve economic welfare. American dream also has a cultural dimension, which means that the U.S. is a diverse country whose people enjoy the freedom of expression, worship, and belief. If one of these dimensions is damaged, the whole idea of the American dream will be negatively affected,” Abolfath told the Tehran Times.

He added, “The 9/11 attacks didn’t wreak direct havoc on the economic dimension of the American dream, although they had economic implications. However, the September attacks damaged the security dimension. They showed that American society wasn’t immune from foreign attacks. The 9/11 attacks shattered the perception of U.S. being secure and stable. According to the official narrative of the U.S., the September attacks marked the first time that the U.S. was attacked in recent history.”

According to Abolfath, the September 11 attacks also negatively affected the lives of immigrants and minority groups in the U.S. by restricting their freedom of belief.

“In the post-9/11 era, the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims immigrants in the U.S. became increasingly difficult. American citizens felt threatened by them. They were ill-treated and even faced the prospect of being isolated,” the U.S. expert said.

He pointed  out, “The idea that anyone immigrating to the U.S. would be able to live his American dream and enjoy the freedom of belief and worship has been shattered, at least for a certain groups of U.S. citizens and residents who immigrated from Muslim and non-Muslim countries.”

Abolfath believes that the September 11 attacks were also a turning point in propagating Islamophobia, though the anti-Islamic sentiments subsided in later times.
Since 1931, the idea of the American dream has been a source of inspiration for a lot of authors, filmmakers, politicians, and public figures as well as ordinary people from all walks of life in the U.S., who sought to make their dreams come true in a country that once was famous for its upward social mobility possibilities.

The term American dream first emerged in 1931, when American historian James Truslow Adams coined it in his bestseller book entitled “The epic of America.”

Adams stated, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”.  He further said the American dream was not “a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

The definition of the American dream has witnessed many changes over the past century. It has morphed from the right to create a better life to the strong desire to achieve material goals such as buying a house or starting a business. The American dream is now defined as the following: If you work hard, your material dreams come true.

However, as the American dream became more associated with making progress in achieving economic goals, the income inequality gap in the U.S. worsened in recent years. “The income inequality gap has never been wider. The country's uneven wealth distribution is illustrated by the fact that the bottom 50% of Americans have just 1% of the nation's wealth, while the top 10% holds 70%,” CNN reported on July 3, citing data released by the Pew Research Center.

Wealth and income inequality as well as the hardness of social mobility stand in stark contrast to the American dream. This fact was reflected in the World Economic Forum's Global Social Mobility report which was published on January 19, 2020. The U.S was not among the top 10 countries. It was ranked 27th in this report.

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