The impact on American Muslims, 11 years after 9/11

At the age of eight, I recall vividly the discussion as I rode the bus home on September 11, 2001. Each of my friends told their different interpretation of the day’s events; we all listened intently. As we were dropped off around the corner from our homes in a quiet suburb of Chicago, we placed the tragic events of that morning in the back of our minds and set out to ride our bikes and shoot hoops, not believing that an event that occurred 800 miles away would forever change our lives.

Eleven years later, I realize how very wrong we were. Since then, America has been involved in three wars – in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the “Global War on Terror” (which, curiously, has not been very global), partially as a result of those attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Capitol Hill.  Indeed, the hijackers of the four planes claimed to be Muslims. They also claimed to be acting in the name of God; but, then again, so did the KKK. I do not argue that these two wrongs make a right; rather, I hope readers understand that the activities of Al-Qaeda’s affiliates/sympathizers, as well as the KKK’s, are completely void of the teachings of any of the three Abrahamic traditions.

Unfortunately, there has been no shortage of blame and hatred directed at Islam and American Muslims over the past eleven years. Studies from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the United States Department of Justice, among many others, have shown that there has been a sharp increase in anti-Muslim sentiment from politicians, an increase of anti-Muslim activity, an increase of opposition to Mosques, and an increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups since 9/11.

These attacks come from many different avenues: ignorant comments and ideas from politicians such as Joe Walsh and Peter King; opposition to religious freedom and Mosque construction in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; the burning down of a mosque in Joplin, Missouri; the spying by the New York Police Department on local Muslim schools, mosques, and places of business (without leads); and even the dangerous testimony of a man who claims to represent Islam (but does not), Walid Phares, to name very few. The aforementioned sources show that these attacks are in no way isolated, nor are there any signs that they are slowing down or reducing in number.

Much of the anti-Muslim activity has occurred since 9/11, strongly suggesting that opposition to Islam arose in response to the terrorist attacks. Yet the connections that American Muslims have to the September 11th attacks do not differ from those of other Americans: our country was attacked and around 3,000 people died. We were as awestruck and angry as our fellow Americans, and we expected the government of our great country to protect us all. Though we dedicate one special day per year – the 11th of September – in loving memory of those we lost, not a day goes by that their lives aren’t mourned and remembered.

Those who died in the attacks were members of the Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, and – yes – the Muslim communities. They were both the victims in the buildings, and the heroes bravely entering the buildings to save them. It is unfortunate that I have to mention these affiliations or somehow convince the public that American Muslims are just victims of this tragedy like every other American.

The point (and the reality) is that American citizens – of all racial and religious backgrounds – tragically lost their lives. And unfortunately, the media and the general public still ask American Muslims and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) how they are responding to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks … as though we were affected any differently, as though we were watching the events from the outside.

In some cases, it seems that we are even being asked to apologize for the actions of these radical “Islamists.” It suggests that we are somehow linked to these terrorists. The attackers might have called themselves Muslims, but their actions were completely opposite to Islamic tenets, and American Muslims simply have nothing to do with their ludicrous agendas.

Though many Americans do not disagree, the continuous questioning – and the increasing anti-Muslim sentiment and activity – seem to suggest, according to CAIR-Chicago Communications Coordinator Leena Saleh, that there is an undue “stigma that still surrounds Muslims over a decade later.” American Muslims, like other Americans, have absolutely no reason to apologize for the events on September 11th; we do have a reason, however, to promote interfaith cooperation and fight against hate and bigotry that is projected upon any community.