Post 9/11: The Arab American Experience


Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the relationship between the general public and Arab Americans has changed dramatically. Prior to 9/11, Arab Americans had relatively similar experiences to those of other immigrant groups in the United States, and were recognized by many as being a politically, economically, and spiritually diverse group. Although the 9/11 attacks were carried out by radical Al-Qaeda terrorists, the fear, anger, sorrow, and confusion of that tragic day left many non-Arab American citizens associating Arab Americans with the attacks. According to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, an organization committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent and celebrating their cultural heritage, over 700 violent incidents targeting Arab Americans or those perceived as Arab Americans were reported in the United States between 2001 and 2002.

According to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, common stereotypes towards Arabs include that all Arabs are Muslim, Muslims are extremists and terrorists, and Arab men are secretly plotting to destroy America. Yet despite pervasive stereotypes, the majority of Arab Americans actually identify themselves as Christian, while Arab Muslims represent the fastest growing division of the Arab American community, according to the Arab American Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to the civic and political empowerment of Americans of Arab descent. The PBS special “Caught in the Crossfire,” which details the experiences of three Arab Americans post 9/11, found that 65% of Arab Americans actually indicated that they were embarrassed because the 9/11 attacks were committed by people from Arab countries. However, many Americans aren’t aware of this information, and to make matters worse, some people argue that former President Bush’s “War on Terrorism” in reaction to the attacks on 9/11 resulted in further igniting the anti-Arab sentiment.

Recently, plans for an Islamic community center containing a mosque, to be built two blocks away from ground zero in New York City, has stirred a lot of controversy. The first amendment of the United State’s constitution guarantees the right of freedom of religion, yet many Americans have spoken out against the mosque’s construction because they believe it is insensitive for the Muslim community to build a mosque near ground zero, as it may cause pain to those who have suffered from 9/11. Peter King, US representative for New York’s 3rd congressional district says that “It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero…While the Muslim community has the right to build the mosque they are abusing that right by needlessly offending so many people who have suffered so much.”

President Obama attempted to remind the nation that Islam was not the enemy by saying “Al-Qaida's cause is not Islam…[They] are not religious leaders— they're terrorists who murder innocent men, women and children. In fact, al-Qaida has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion— and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11."  President Obama also asserted that “Muslims have the right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group, is glad President Obama addressed the issue, as they feel “the level of anti-Muslim hysteria has gotten out of control over this manufactured controversy." The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, stands alongside President Obama in his support of the Islamic center, although many New Yorkers and other Americans still dispute the right of Muslim Americans to freely build and worship in the prospective mosque.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the developer of the planned Islamic community center told ABC News that he is definitely going forward with the project, but did not indicate whether he is committed to the proposed location two blocks away from Ground Zero. Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, hopes that the controversy over the project will fade and that Americans will realize that the community center is meant to “…project a different message of Islam, one of tolerance, love and the kind of commonalities we have with different faith communities."


For more information visit: Caught in the Crossfire Arab American Institute  American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Prospective Islamic community center’s blog Mosque Controversy Texas Board of Education claims that their textbooks are too pro-Islam


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