15 years after 9/11: Islamophobia countered by Muslims gaining ground

Many Muslims in the United States breathed a sigh of relief that Eid al-Adha did not fall on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11

Joyce Karam
Joyce Karam
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Saved by the calendar, many Muslims in the United States breathed a sigh of relief that Eid al-Adha did not fall on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and will instead be celebrated tomorrow.

This sense of relief is a clue of how mindful Muslim-Americans have become of their identity and minority status in the aftermath of 9/11. More so today, it is a subtle response to the charged rhetoric against Muslims across Europe and the United States heard from the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage while being fueled by the brutality of ISIS, a terror organization hiding behind the banner of Islam.

However, and since the horror of 9/11, many Muslim Americans have come a long way in being more vocal participants in the political debate and as a critical voice to US inclusivity and progress.

Fifteen years after 9/11, Muslim Americans’ struggle with hate crimes and discrimination has been an uphill climb. An ABC poll conducted in October 2001 after the attacks, found that 47 percent had a favorable view of Islam compared to 39 percent expressing negative views. These numbers have dramatically changed reaching a high of 61 percent with an unfavorable view according to a Sadat Chair poll conducted last November.

On the ground, this change in perceiving Islam has made American Muslims a more vulnerable target for hate crimes over. According to the FBI records, an annual average of 100-150 hate crimes targeted the Muslim community annually between 2001-2014, compared to 20 or 30 prior to 2001. This year these numbers have continued to spike reaching an average of 180 hate crimes between March 2015 and March 2016, according to a report by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

The shooting of a Muslim taxi driver in New York, the slaying of three Muslim students in North Carolina, a Muslim woman being called “a worthless piece of Muslim trash” in an affluent DC suburb, the vandalizing of mosques or a pig's head being left at a Philadelphia mosque all depict a harsher reality for Muslim Americans, accounting to 3.3 million of the US population (one percent).

While the nominee for the Republican party Donald Trump boasts about having “a lot of friends that are Muslim,” his rhetoric since the beginning of his campaign last year has played directly into the increasing hostility against Muslim Americans.

Whether it’s his false accusation of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks, or his call for a travel ban on Muslims, or the defaming of a Goldstar family, Trump has not spared an opportunity to spew prejudice and hate against the community.

Many Muslims in the United States breathed a sigh of relief that Eid al-Adha did not fall on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and will instead be celebrated tomorrow

Joyce Karam

For Trump, his statements have an immediate political expediency to rally his base of supporters, two-thirds of whom think US President Barack Obama is a Muslim and another 69 percent who agree with his Muslim ban. But political expediency aside, Trump’s rhetoric is a threat of its own to US national security and plays right into the hands of the same terrorists who were behind 9/11.

It was George W. Bush’s visit to a mosque in DC five days after 9/11 that assured the Muslim community and helped unify the country against an enemy that killed more Muslims than any other religion.

More vocal Muslim community

The aftermath of 9/11 has also brought forth a more vocal and engaged Muslim community. More visibility in organizing voter registration and seeking public offices was seen after the attacks.

The first Muslim American to enter Congress, Keith Ellison, was elected in 2006. Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first American athlete to wear the hijab at the Olympics and just last week Obama appointed the first Muslim US Federal Judge. While Europe and the United Kingdom are on a rough path when it comes to issues of civil rights and integration of their Muslim communities, the United States is far ahead in protecting those rights, and avoiding the marginalization of the community. There is no burqa or burkini ban in the United States and the Supreme Court ruled last year in favor of a Muslim woman, refused a job because of her hijab at Abercrombie & Fitch.

The terror that hit New York on 9/11 was aimed at making the United States the enemy of Islam. A goal that is bound to fail, given the Muslim community’s own journey in the United States and the core of the US constitution, standing tall against all forms of extremism.


Joyce Karam is the Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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