The morning of September 11, 2001, was one of the most difficult ones for the United States of America. On the fateful day, which turns 19-year-old today, the terrorist group Al-Qaida launched a series of four coordinated attacks against the USA using four hijacked passenger airplanes. While the two of the planes crashed into the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center, a third was flown into the Pentagon, the Department of Defense headquarters near Washington. Passengers on the fourth plane, likely bound for the White House, retook control of the aircraft and crashed it into a field in Pennsylvania.
The wounds inflicted in the September 11 terror attacks remain as fresh today. Nearly 3,000 people died and about 25,000 were injured. And while everyone in the country has been affected negatively in some way as the securitization of everyday life that came in the wake of the crisis, the group that has suffered the most are the Arab immigrants and the American Muslims, because of the one thing they had in common with the terrorist group — their religion.
Muslims in America since then faced extraordinary rendition, interrogation, surveillance, random searches, acts of vandalism and hate crime and sometimes, even detentions and deportations. They were singled out and targeted by both the government and the public.
“I was made aware that I was not a full-American after 9/11. It’s like I went to sleep an American and woke up an Arab,” said Dena Kuko, a student in California in an interview to an American television channel. She said that her loyalty and allegiance to America was questioned, even in the community she called home for decades.
An ongoing academic debate about Arab Muslims in America suggests that mass media have branded them as the inferior, hostile, and backward ‘enemy within.’ Yaqin and Morey state in Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation After 9/11 that Muslims in the United States have been unjustly stigmatized by the western media to exclude them from societal privileges.
History of alienation
The targeting of a specific group of people in a time of national emergency, based on a putative national or religious affiliation with the ‘enemy,’ seems to be embedded in the history of the US, the most prominent example being the Japanese Internment during World War II. According to Robert Asahina, Visiting Scholar at the Asian-Pacific-American Studies Institute at New York University, parallels can be drawn in comparing the Japanese Internment and the treatment of Muslims after the events of 9/11 with regards to some faultlines of American democracy.
These fissures are exacerbated in wartime: the tendency to diminish the civil liberties of certain groups of people, often marginalized, to guarantee national security.
Islamophobia in Trump-era
In his Presidential campaign in 2016, Donald Trump commented that he has seen “thousands of Muslims” celebrating after the 9/11 attacks. “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down, and I watched in New Jersey where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down,” he said. He further said “hundreds to thousands across the world” agreed and supported his “truth.”
In September 2015, at a campaign rally, Trump nodded along as a supporter claimed “we have a problem in this country; it’s called Muslims.” Trump continued nodding, saying “right,” and “we need this question!” He also called for a “complete and total ban of Muslims from entering the United States.”
“There is a lot of negative rhetoric,” a Muslim businessman in the US quoted to The New York Times. “The negative rhetoric is causing the hate, and in turn, the hate is causing the violent acts.”
And that hatred for Muslims is common between India and the USA, Amnesty said. Ahead of Trump’s visit to India in February, the human rights organization said “anti-Muslim sentiment permeates” in the policies of both the United States and Indian heads of the state. “For decades, the US-India relationship was anchored by claims of shared values of human rights and human dignity. Now, those shared values are discrimination, bigotry, and hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers,” it said.
Only time will tell whether Arab and Muslim Americans will ever achieve the goal of being equitably included as regular Americans, or as the history suggests, which group will replace them as the demons of tomorrow.