OPINION: American Muslims look for hope, not hate twenty years after 9/11

Thursday, 9 September 2021 16:15 GMT

Muslim American activists offer "Maghrib" sunset prayers during an immigration rally and Iftar "breaking fast" during the month of Ramadan at Foley Square in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky

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Despite the stifling impact of anti-Muslim bigotry and systemic biases in our legal system, American Muslims today are persevering.

Farah Brelvi and Asifa Quraishi-Landes are two co-founders and serve as the co-interim executive directors of Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks.

The two decades following September 11, 2001 did not give birth to anti-Muslim hate in the U.S.; they just significantly turned up the volume.

The first Muslims arrived in this country as enslaved people and were starved, beaten, subjugated and worked to death. Since then, American Muslims have faced various waves of anti-Black, anti-immigrant hate and discrimination. After 9/11, anti-Muslim hate became a commodity and an enduring part of our politics and society.

Our identity as American Muslims was effectively racialized in the past 20 years and became a justification for us to be targeted. Over the last two decades, this phenomenon escalated so dramatically that most American Muslims still think twice about how they express their faith and engage in public life. In reality, American Muslims are the most diverse faith in the country and have always intersected with communities of color in the U.S. who regularly suffer hate crimes, public demonization and government-sanctioned discrimination.

Only weeks after 9/11, the Patriot Act was passed, granting unprecedented powers to the federal government to spy on Americans. These powers were disproportionately used against American Muslims. The “No Fly List” mushroomed from a handful of people individually suspected of wrongdoing, to targeting tens of thousands of American Muslims.

Institutions like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security fundamentally changed how our government treats immigrants. Undercover police officers spied on mosques. Federally funded counterterror programs deploying stereotypes and junk science to profile people as extremists have persisted under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Anti-Muslim discourse supporting these policies became part of everyday commentary about American Muslims and Islam. Correspondingly, violence targeting our communities, and also people just perceived to be Muslim, increased.

In 2001, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. jumped 1600 percent, and have remained at elevated levels ever since. And that’s just counting the hate crimes the government officially acknowledges. To this day, many victims fear going public and law enforcement often declines to classify bigoted attacks as hate crimes.

Hate crimes against American Muslims skyrocketed when Donald Trump gained notoriety by peddling the anti-Muslim ‘birtherism’ conspiracy – running for president on a promise to ban Muslims.

Trump was not the first to benefit politically by embracing anti-Muslim hate. After 9/11, a network of anti-Muslim public figures and hate groups gained new prominence and waged a well-funded campaign to paint Muslims as violent, anti-American threats – as though American Muslims were not historically an integral part of the societal fabric.

A major plank of this campaign was the wholly fabricated contention that sharia, a commonplace term Muslims use to describe their religious practices, represents a political agenda that threatens the values and security of society. “Creeping sharia,” as they called it, lurked around every corner, just like the Communist bogeyman in the 1950s.

This campaign gained purchase among mainstream politicians like Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Peter King, Allen West and especially Trump. Today, the right-wing war against critical race theory is being waged by some of these same people who continue to read from the same political playbook.

However, despite the stifling impact of anti-Muslim bigotry from public officials and systemic biases in our legal system, American Muslims today are persevering.

More American Muslims than ever are serving in Congress, courtrooms, school boards and much more. Muslim Advocates was founded after the passage of the Patriot Act to fight back against discrimination and give American Muslims expert representation.

We are joined by many like-minded organizations, communities and individuals who work for justice and refuse to allow hatemongers to divide us. Our diverse communities have found strength in each other as we continue to fight the erosion of our civil rights and find ways to claim space in all aspects of American life.

We hope this is the last Remembrance Day that forces our communities to dwell on hate and discrimination. Instead, we hope that the future will allow us to reflect on ways that this country learned from our mistakes and how all Americans joined a shared fight against injustice.

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