September 11th, 2001 marked the start of a new era of anti-American sentiment. In the lead-up to that fateful day, American citizens were treated with increased suspicion as they went about their routine.
The public became more aware of and sensitive to acts of terrorism. And as a result, all things Islamic took a hit when it came to how people viewed them. While America surged out of the Great Recession and into what seemed like an endless economic boom, so did Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.
Hate crimes against Muslims spiked after 9/11, especially in Europe. Many countries began passing laws banning Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public schools and preventing them from marrying non-Muslims to safeguard their societies from radicalization.
It’s gotten to the point where we have books called How To Fight Anti-Muslim Bias instead of How To Fight Bias Against Specific Groups or How To Fight Bias Towards Minorities rather than How To Fight Racial Bias Towards Minorities or even Bias Towards Minorities (which would be better named Are You Being Anti-Minorities?). Today marks another anniversary of 9/11 that should remind us as Americans why vigilance is necessary.
Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bigotry Aren’t New
The public’s reaction to 9/11 and the subsequent Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry that followed was not something new. After all, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry has existed around the world for centuries. In Europe, many Europeans were afraid of the large influx of Muslims after the Ottoman Empire’s decline and fall in the early 20th century.
In the United Kingdom, Nazi Germany’s rise to power and its violent campaign against Jewish people were one of the driving factors behind the creation of the Jewish Homeland Society in the 1920s and 1930s. These groups viewed the Jews, who they believed controlled the financial markets and the media, as a threat to the societies in which they lived, so they also began confining their Muslim friends and family members to protect their societies from radicalization.
Muslims Grew Up With Bias After 9/11
Post-9/11, we have to remember that Muslims were part of the fabric of America long before 9/11. Muslims are an integral part of New York City, where the largest Muslim population outside the Middle East resides. Muslims have survived and thrived in America for centuries.
In the years after 9/11, however, anti-Muslim bias was more widespread and open. Many people seemed more emboldened to show their Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry than they were before.
The events on 9/11 were heinous, but they were not the first or last acts of terrorism in the United States. They were, however, the ones that got the most scrutiny. And they were the ones that served as a trigger for Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry to grow.
We Have a Responsibility As American Muslims
As a Muslim American, I know that in addition to the responsibility that comes with being a person, there is a responsibility that comes with being part of a group. We have a responsibility to stand up for our fellow Muslims and our Muslim-American neighbors when we see them discriminated against.
We have to challenge anti-Muslim bigotry whenever we hear it. We have to make our voices heard when we see other people trying to silence the Muslim American community, or when we see someone trying to use 9/11 for their political gain.
We have to make sure our mosques are safe spaces for Muslims, immigrants, and the broader community. We have to make sure that the money we raise for the community goes to good causes; we have to make sure that the people running our mosques have our best interests at heart.
How Should We Respond To Islamophobia And Anti-Muslim Bias?
As Americans and as people who believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression, we cannot let Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry go unnoticed. We cannot let it go as if we are used to it or as if it’s acceptable. We cannot let it go because it is real. It is real. It is dangerous.
And it is deadly. We cannot let it go because it is harming Muslim Americans in real ways every day. It is hurting the people we should be standing up for the most. It is keeping our country from being as truly inclusive as it could be. We cannot let it go because it is harming the reputation of Islam.
We have to show that we are better than this. We have to show that we are better than the people who would use 9/11 as a tool for bigotry.
Final Words: Let’s Fight For Tolerance
The attacks on our country almost killed us. They changed who we were and what we stood for, but they did not kill us. They did not turn us into a nation of haters and bigots. They did, however, serve as a wake-up call. They showed us how vulnerable we were.
They showed us how our country was vulnerable to outsiders who wanted to cause harm, who wanted to cause us harm. They showed us how our country was vulnerable to people who hated our freedoms. They showed us that our freedoms were not safe, that they were not protected.
They showed us that the people who would use our freedoms as a weapon were the same people who would use our freedoms as a shield. They showed us how Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry were weaving their way into our national fabric. They showed us that we had to fight for our tolerance. They showed us that we had to fight for our respect. They showed us that we had to fight for our humanity.
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