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Discrimination Against Muslims After 9-11 Essay Titles

Years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the daily lives of American Muslims continue to be affected by the anxieties and policies those attacks unleashed. Because so many of their fellow citizens see them as both physically threatening and culturally inferior, Muslim-Americans endure regular expressions of hostility at their jobs and in public spaces. They are also the target of government policies aimed at securing the country from another terrorist attack.

Every single day in U.S. airports, for example, Muslim Americans are treated as dangerous. Quite a few men have been told they are on a No-Fly List when they attempt to check in for flights; and women who wear the hijab or other religious clothing are often stopped and searched by Transportation and Security Administration agents. Such government actions are not only a problem for the people affected; they also convey the broader message that Muslims are a threat to national security and require careful monitoring and surveillance.

I interviewed 48 South Asian and Arab Muslim Americans about their experiences pre- and post-9/11 in Chicago and the Dallas/Ft. Worth area between 2009 and 2012. My research on many aspects of this issue shows, because of the association of Islam with terror, violence, and the oppression of women, Muslims in the United States bear a heavy burden. They feel constantly compelled to prove that their national and religious identities can co-exist harmoniously.

Prejudice against Muslims in America

Social scientists have made several attempts to measure trends in public views about Muslims in the United States.

  • According to the Pew Research Center, Americans’ favorable rating of Islam dropped from 40% in 2001 to 30% in 2001.
  • A 2005 survey by the Council of American Islamic Relations found that one fourth of Americans held anti-Muslim attitudes and believed negative stereotypes about Muslims. Roughly 25% of respondents thought Islam is a religion that preaches hatred and violence; 60% were not very knowledgeable about Islam (only 2% claimed to be knowledgeable); and a little over a third of respondents described themselves as indifferent/confused/neutral about Islam and Muslims.
  • A 2010 study by the Public Research Institute reveals that 45% of Americans believe Islam and American values are incompatible. 

Because discrimination against Muslims can be considered a form of racism, it is also interesting to look at trends in public support for racial profiling since the terrorist attacks of 2001. According to a Gallup poll, before those attacks only about one-fifth of all Americans supported racial profiling by law enforcement. However, in a 2004 Gallup poll, 31% of the respondents agreed that some racial profiling of motorists was justified on roads and highways, while 45% supported it at security checkpoints at airports. In 2010, a CBS News poll found a slight decrease in support for profiling (with only 37% of Americans in favor), yet more than a third of Americans were in favor of the use of racial profiling at airports.

Surveillance Practices in U.S. Airports

Before the attacks on September 11, 2001, security in U.S. airports was contracted out to private companies. In November 2001, the U.S. Congress created the Transportation and Security Administration, making this federal agency responsible for airport security. That agency now has a budget of $7.4 billion and 55,600 full-time employees. In turn, the Transportation Security Administration established a program called Screening of Passengers through Observing Techniques, which trains agents to identify passengers who are behaving in what has been defined as a suspicious manner. The federal government’s Terrorist Screening Center also assembled and continues to maintain a No-Fly List.

My research shows that these innovations at U.S. airports have led to many American Muslim men and women being treated with suspicion. The Department of Homeland Security claims the No-Fly List contains 21,000 names on it. In addition to the No-Fly List, airlines are required to provide the Transportation and Security Agency with personal information about every passenger. This Secure Flight List is then compared to the No-Fly List. Short of that, according to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, 52% of Muslims feel they are singled out by the government’s anti-terrorist initiatives with 21% feeling singled out by airport security.

How Muslim American Men and Women Experience Heightened Surveillance

The majority of the Muslim men I interviewed were made aware that they were on lists calling for heightened government surveillance only at the airport. When they tried to get their boarding passes for flights they had booked, they were then interrogated by a Transportation Security agent. If they were allowed to proceed to their flights, their persons and possessions were searched at the security line and often once again at the gate. Muslim American women reported that they were treated unfairly and unequally as they passed through airport security. Women wearing the hijab could expect to be stopped for special searches at the security gate, although none of those I interviewed were informed that they were on any government watch list.

Even now, more than thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, pervasive surveillance by government and suspicion or outright prejudice from their fellow citizens has the effect of silencing the Muslim Americans I interviewed. These men and women have come to understand that, as Muslims, they are likely to be associated with terrorism. They censor themselves and avoid talking about politics or religion. Even though all citizens in a democracy have such rights, American Muslims live daily with the worry that they are presumed dangerous and disloyal, a threat to both national security and American cultural values.

“We’re seeing these stereotypes and derogative statements become part of the political discourse,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the San Bernardino campus. “The bottom line is we’re talking about a significant increase in these types of hate crimes.”

He said that the frequency of anti-Muslim violence appeared to have increased immediately after some of Mr. Trump’s most incendiary comments.

The latest major episode of anti-Muslim violence came last weekend, when an arsonist on a motorcycle started a fire that engulfed the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, Fla., where Omar Mateen — the gunman in the June massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando — had sometimes prayed.

The police, who called the attack “a terrible tragedy” for the community, arrested a local man who had criticized Islam in social media postings.

The arson, along with an earlier assault on a congregant outside the mosque and other episodes there, has left worshipers scared, said Mohammed Malik, 43, a businessman who has attended the mosque for nearly a decade.

“There is a lot of negative rhetoric,” he said. “The negative rhetoric is causing the hate, and in turn the hate is causing the violent acts.”

The new study from Mr. Levin’s nonpartisan group, based on official police reports in 20 states, estimated that there were about 260 hate crimes against Muslims nationwide in 2015.

That was the most since the record 481 documented hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks set off waves of crimes targeting Muslims and Middle Easterners, Mr. Levin said. The huge increase last year was also the biggest annual rise since 2001, he said.

The rise came even as hate crimes against almost all other groups — including blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays and whites — either declined or increased only slightly, his study found. One exception was hate crimes against transgender people, which rose about 40 percent.

An advance copy of the study was provided to The New York Times.

The statistics almost certainly understate the extent of the problem, researchers say, because victims are often reluctant to report attacks for fear of inflaming community tensions, and because it is sometimes difficult for investigators to establish that religious, ethnic or racial hatred was a cause.

In the killing last year of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C., for instance, the authorities did not bring hate crime charges against a neighbor who is charged with murdering them, despite calls from Muslims who said there were religious overtones to the violence. The police said that a parking dispute, not bigotry, may have led to the killings.

Sometimes, the evidence is more clear-cut.

“I hate ISLAM!” a former Marine named Ted Hakey Jr. wrote to a friend on Facebook after last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris. Hours later, in a drunken rampage, he fired a high-powered rifle four times into the mosque next door to his Connecticut home.

Last month, an apologetic Mr. Hakey began a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to a hate crime charge.

In Brooklyn, two women out walking their children in strollers were attacked this month, the police said, by a woman who screamed anti-Muslim obscenities and tried to rip off their traditional veils. And in Queens, a man was beaten in April by three strangers who shouted “ISIS, ISIS.”

In Minneapolis, a man shouting obscenities about Islam shot two Muslim men in traditional religious garb in June, the authorities said.

In St. Louis, a man was arrested in February after the police said he pointed a gun at a Muslim family shopping on his block and told them they “all should die.”

Last month, an imam in Queens and his assistant were shot and killed execution-style on the sidewalk. The authorities have charged a 35-year-old man in the attack but have not determined a motive or whether it should be treated as a hate crime.

The increase in reports of apparent hate crimes has worried Justice Department officials.

“We saw it after 9/11, and we continue to see an uptick in allegations of hate-related incidents today following the tragic events over the past year,” said Vanita Gupta, who leads the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

“We see criminal threats against mosques; harassment in schools; and reports of violence targeting Muslim-Americans, Sikhs, people of Arab or South-Asian descent and people perceived to be members of these groups,” Ms. Gupta said.

The Justice Department has moved to draw public attention to the problem and marshal resources to combat it as part of a broader effort against religious discrimination.

A number of experts in hate crimes said they were concerned that Mr. Trump’s vitriol may have legitimized threatening or even violent conduct by a small fringe of his supporters.

In a few cases, people accused of hate crimes against Muslims and others have even cited Mr. Trump.

The police here in Washington released a videotape in May of a woman who reportedly poured liquid on a Muslim woman after berating Islam and declaring that she was going to vote for Mr. Trump so that he could “send you all back where you came from.”

On Thursday, Hillary Clinton charged that Mr. Trump had “incited violence” in a campaign marked by “bigotry” and “hatred.”

Mr. Trump’s supporters say that he has never endorsed violence against any minorities, and some conservatives have challenged data showing an increase in violence against American Muslims as a creation of liberal-leaning researchers.

Mr. Trump has said he is not responsible for any violence by his supporters.

“They’re not angry about something I’m saying,” he said on “Meet the Press” in March. “I’m just a messenger. The people are angry about the fact that, for 12 years, the workers in this country haven’t had a pay increase.”

James Nolan, a former F.B.I. crime analyst who teaches about hate crimes at West Virginia University, said that the data seemed to show “a real spike” in hate crimes against American Muslims, caused in part by candidates’ “raising the specter that radical Islam is at our doorstep.”

Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and extremism, went further.

“I don’t have the slightest doubt that Trump’s campaign rhetoric has played a big part” in the rising attacks, he said.

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