By Yuram Abdullah Weiler

Post 9/11 America: Islam and Muslims still suspect

September 11, 2020 - 19:11

Nineteen years have passed by since a rogue band of extremists hijacked four passenger airplanes and executed a multi-pronged attack on the symbols of American hegemony. Muslims were immediately eyed with great suspicion and these fears were amplified by U.S. politicians in a misguided attempt to capitalize on the public’s shock and outrage. Over the interceding years Americans’ negative attitudes toward and perceptions of Islam and Muslims has only worsened.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, at least according to the official narrative, nineteen extremists, fifteen of whom were Saudi nationals, while none were from Iraq or Iran, took over four passenger jetliners and flew two of them into the New York World Trade Center Twin Towers and a third into the Pentagon.  The fourth aircraft, assumed to have been intended to strike the U.S. Congress or the White House, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. During one of the alleged cell phone calls from one of the hijacked planes, the caller claimed that he had looked closely at one of the hijackers, and “He had an Islamic look.”  

Americans remain largely ignorant of Islam and its basic tenets, yet disturbingly enough, hold on tenaciously to negative stereotypes of Muslims.  Despite the fact that nearly every Islamic organization strongly condemned the 9/11 attacks, as they have done after other violent acts perpetrated by extremists in the name of Islam, Americans stubbornly continue to conflate Muslims with terrorism. Moreover, many U.S. politicians are obsessed with the idea that Islamist extremists are actively recruiting and operating in mosques across the U.S., and hence, are categorically suspicious of Muslims and perceive an urgent need for strict surveillance of them. 

Following the September 11 attacks, the USA PATRIOT Act was quickly passed by Congress with very little debate over the bill’s nefarious provisions. Some members of Congress later admitted that, in the rush to pass the draconian legislation and avoid any loss of political capital by appearing weak on terrorism, they had not even bothered to read the draft copies that had been circulated. The bill, whose name is an acronym standing for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, besides broadening the definition of “domestic terrorism” also provides for warrantless searches without the need to show probable cause. At least 1,200 people were detained by U.S. law enforcement agencies under the provisions of this noxious legislation, some of whom were subject to physical and verbal abuse bordering on torture.  

Most of these detainees were eventually released or deported from the U.S., but virtually no charges of terrorism were filed as a result of the law. An additional 5,000 immigrants from Muslim-majority countries were interrogated by FBI agents, who had been ordered to do so by then-attorney general John Ashcroft, despite a lack of evidence or other legal bases to authorize the questioning. Anonymous tips were used to justify the surveillance of Muslims, mosques, Islamic schools, and private homes. This federally-mandated inquisition heightened the atmosphere of Islamophobia, which was already proliferating following the 9/11 attacks, resulting in a sharp increase in hate crimes against Muslims.
In what appears to have been a carefully scripted appearance to show the world that the United States was NOT at war with Islam, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf was invited to a White House dinner on September 20, a short nine days after the 9/11 attacks. Unbeknownst to him, at that very same moment, FBI agents some 2,000 miles away were pounding on the door of Sheikh Hamza’s home in California, ostensibly to warn his wife that she and her husband, as well as other high-profile Muslims, may be targets of violence perpetrated by Americans in retaliation for the September 11 attacks.  The White House dinner effectively politicized and marginalized Sheikh Hamza, who had been an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy, and transformed him into what is termed a “moderate Muslim.” Yusuf conceded that since the attacks he has toned down his rhetoric and edited criticism of the U.S. out of his lectures. He has even advised Muslim women in America not to wear hijab so as to avoid inciting harassment by intolerant Americans. 

On the same day that Bush was hosting Sheikh Hamza at the White House, he addressed a joint session of Congress. “Al Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to crime,” Bush explained. “The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars,” he continued, “There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries.” In essence, the U.S. president had defined Islam in terms of loyalty to the United States,  but what he did not mention was that the U.S. had helped create Al Qaeda as a result of matching Saudi Arabia dollar-for-dollar to finance those “terrorists” in Afghanistan during the 1980s in their jihad to topple the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. 

Likewise, the bellicose rhetoric emerging from Washington did little to calm Muslims’ fears that the U.S. was intending to launch a crusade against Islam.  For his part, then U.S. President George W. Bush threatened, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Bush began his global war on terrorism with Afghanistan, and other Muslim-majority nations were put on notice to either cooperate with Washington or risk being bombed back to the Stone Age. Bush stepped up the propaganda campaign for his war on the home front and soon had 70 percent of Americans believing Iraqi dictator Saddam had been involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks. 

It is ironic that Bush pushed through the so-called Patriot Act restricting the civil rights of Americans and then went on to invade Iraq, On October 11, 2000, during a televised debate with Democratic opponent Al Gore, he had expressed opposition to toppling Saddam, and concern over violating the civil rights of Muslims by the practice of racial profiling and the use of secret evidence. “The incarceration and deportation of legal residents and others on the basis of secret evidence is a practice reserved for totalitarian countries, not the United States,” then-candidate Bush had pontificated. 

The 9/11 attacks have dramatically impacted and transformed the lives of Muslims in America.  While still striving for economic prosperity, Muslims in the U.S. have rejected mainstream American life by placing top priority on their Islamic faith and identity and seeking solace within their own Islamic communities.  This trend seems to be especially true for second-generation Muslims, who frequently embrace their Islamic faith more strongly than their parents that immigrated to America. After the September 11 attacks, the younger generation of American Muslims frequently found themselves in the position of having to explain and defend their religion in what had become an increasingly hostile environment. Meanwhile, FBI agents were busy searching mosques and private homes, while non-Muslim Americans became ever more suspicious that Muslims were terrorists and Islam was a religion of violence. Like the coronavirus today, a pandemic of Islamophobia gradually spread across the U.S. and infected wide swaths of the American populace. 

Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, writes, “In a world of inequalities and global warming, there has arisen a frightening receptivity to blaming the stranger or the other for the unfairness being experienced in the forms of inequality, economic displacement, and erosions of national identity.” For Muslims in post 9/11 America, this frightening receptivity has materialized in the form of overt, state-sanctioned Islamophobia, now more than ever before with Donald Trump in the White House.

The word “Muslim” had been used to vilify former President Barack Hussein Obama during his campaign in 2008 but was seized upon with vigor in 2011 by Trump.  Attacking the legitimacy of the Obama presidency, the former reality show star accused Obama of not being an American by birth and snidely suggested that the birth certificate might list his religion as “Muslim.” On April 27, 2011, Obama did release his birth certificate, which documented his place of birth as Honolulu, Hawaii, but did not state a religion, allowing Trump to maintain his vulgar vilification. 

Once in office, Trump continued his vituperation of Islam and Muslims by signing a series of executive orders, which first banned immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, namely Iran, Iraq Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The second version rescinded the ban on Iraq; the third version, which by then had become known as Muslim Ban 3.0, added North Korea and Venezuela to blur the overt Islamophobia.  Predictably, the right-leaning U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban in a partisan 5-4 ruling, making life that much more anguished and difficult for American Muslims with spouses, children, or other loved ones living in one of the six countries unable to obtain visas for a family visit. 

In Donald Trump’s fascist and Islamophobic version of America, Muslims have become legitimate targets to be demonized. Chants of “send them back” directed toward Muslims and other minorities at rallies has become a staple of Trump’s re-election campaign.  Some Muslims are justifiably worried about the long term emotional and psychological damage caused by Trump’s anti-Muslim chauvinism on individuals, particularly on children.  Presidential challenger Joe Biden claims that he will rescind Trump’s Muslim Ban on day one, if elected.   Meanwhile, Islam and Muslims still remain under suspicion in post-9/11 America.

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