Decades after 9/11, Muslims battle Islamophobia in US

The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States ushered in a new era of hate crimes, racism, and xenophobia against Muslims.

For Muslim Americans, the post-September 11 ramifications of Islamophobia continue as the 21st anniversary of the attacks is solemnly marked on Sunday.

According to FBI statistics, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States skyrocketed immediately after September 11, 2001, and are still on an upward trend.

“Muslims continue to be the target of hate, bullying, and discrimination as a result of the stereotypes that were perpetuated by Islamophobes and the media in the years following the 9/11 attacks,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“Twenty-one years after the attacks, Muslims continue to face the threat of targeted violence.”

After September 11, Ayloush said, there was “a perfect storm of the American people and its government needing a common ‘enemy’”.

“The unfortunate reality is there are people and organisations that benefit from perpetuating Islamophobia, bigotry, and war,” he said.

‘Xenophobic commentary’

Islamophobia – which is defined as the dislike of, or prejudice against, Islam or Muslims – remains a prevalent problem in the US.

Zahra Jamal, associate director of Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance in Houston, said 62 percent of Muslims report feeling religion-based hostility and 65 percent felt disrespected by others.

“That’s almost three times the percentage among Christians,” said Jamal. “Internalised Islamophobia is more prevalent among younger Muslims who have faced anti-Muslim tropes in popular culture, news, social media, political rhetoric, and in policy. This negatively impacts their self-image and mental health.”

She said the numbers related to discrimination against Muslims are alarming and show just how much Islamophobia has increased in the US over the past 20 years.

Ayloush said the statistics were not surprising considering the current volatile political climate in the US perpetuated by former President Donald Trump during his term in office.

“Trump’s presidency normalised being an anti-Muslim bigot. He made it socially acceptable to be overtly anti-Muslim,” said Ayloush.

“Besides constantly retweeting anti-Muslim rhetoric from Islamophobic entities from his now-permanently suspended Twitter account and stating during his campaign that he thinks ‘Islam hates us’, he also made multiple xenophobic commentary and policies about Muslim immigrants and refugees … with very little regard to their discriminatory intent.”

More prone to violence?

Ayloush cited “the Muslim ban”, which barred travellers from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.

“Although the current administration overturned the ban, we are still dealing with the ramifications of it to this day with many families still being separated,” said Ayloush.

He emphasised one stereotype that impacts the Muslim community the hardest.

“The most blatant falsehood to arise from the response to the 9/11 attacks is the idea that Muslims are somehow more prone to violence than other groups or religions,” said Ayloush.

“This dangerous and inaccurate ideology portrays Islam’s more than two billion followers in a way that ultimately dehumanises them. Even worse, it has led to government policies and law enforcement practices that surveil the Muslim community.

“Islamophobia does not exist in a vacuum. Muslims are unfortunately not the first, and they sadly will not be the last, group that faces hate and discrimination in the United States,” said Ayloush.

He noted the US has a long history of “dehumanising and marginalising” ethnic and religious groups, including Native Americans, African Americans, Jews, and Asian Americans.

The only way to combat Islamophobia after 9/11 is to address it head-on, he said.

“It is important to hold people who perpetuate racism, bigotry, and xenophobia accountable for their hateful words and actions in all sectors, whether it’s at the border, at the airport, by law enforcement, or by a politician,” said Ayloush.

“In the last 20-plus years since that horrific day, we are seeing more and more Americans choosing to stand up for what is right.”