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A decade of being singled out

Published Sep 12, 2011 07:21am

The First family observes the scenes at Ground Zero and remember the victims and the events of 9/11. – Reuters Photo

For all Americans, it was marked as one of the most tragic days in the history of the United States, but America is not alone. September 11 and its damaging domino effect has changed the world’s history as well.

The United States declared a war that has yet to finish, national security for many countries has dramatically changed, an oscillating global economy, and the stifling fear of growing terrorism.

While the world changed so did the quiet lives of Muslim Americans.

Over the past ten years, many events have taken place within the United States that are considered controversial and have stirred many Muslims in their communities.

There were many assaults, mosque vandalism, and protests against Muslims but the first fatal backlash occurred in on September 15,2001 when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was murdered in Arizona. It was a sign of things to come.

In October 2001, The PATRIOT Act reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' access to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, etc. In a recent Associated Press report, soon after Sept 11, the CIA worked with the FBI and New York Police Department to use informants to infiltrate into Muslim communities to gather intelligence on terrorist-related activities. The article incited an angry response from national Muslim and civil rights organisations.

After President Obama became elected, he made a historical speech in Egypt in order to reach out to the Muslim world. The speech was widely received as a positive step in creating strong ties with Muslims across the country and around the world.

A couple of years later during the midterm elections, the bipartisan balance shifted.  Newly-elected Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner along with 85 new Republican representatives joined the House of Representatives, along with a full-steamed ready-to-go Tea Party movement right behind them.

As the House shifted so did public opinion on Muslim communities such as the recent protest against the development of a interfaith community center better known as the “Ground Zero Mosque” located near World Trade Center or the Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones in Florida.

In May 2011, President Obama reenacted the PATRIOT Act with a four-year extension on three main provisions; wiretaps, business records and conducting surveillance of individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorist groups.

The public opinion quickly changed to political opinion when the Chairman of Homeland Security Committee Republican representative Peter King held a McCarthy-like hearing on “radicalisation” of Muslims in the United States. To date, King has held three hearings on the same issues and has planned for more hearings.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) along with 50 other groups wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives in response stating, “The hearings planned by Chairman King, however, are inconsistent with this vision of America. Singling out a group of Americans for government scrutiny based on their faith is divisive and wrong. These hearings will inevitably examine activities protected by the First Amendment, an affront to fundamental freedoms upon which our country was founded.”

In a recent PEW survey, forty-three percent of Muslim Americans had personally experienced harassment in the past year and another 52 two per cent said their community has been profiled by the government for surveillance on terrorist activities.

These numbers are not surprising, organisations such as Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) whose aim is to banish Senators who used SANEs’ manifesto as part of a bill that banned prayers and feet-washing.  The anti-Sharia campaign during the elections became something to mention by a few Republican candidates among the voters.

In November 2010, Oklahoma voters passed a ballot by a 70-30 per cent margin that barred “state courts from considering international or Islamic law.” Eventually, the law did not go into effect because a federal injunction issued by Judge Miles-LaGrange argued that it violated the First Amendment and profiled Muslim Americans.

According to a CAIR and University of California Berkeley joint-report concluded that Islam and Muslim communities factored into the 2010 midterm elections and has a strong possibility of becoming a topic in the forefront of the upcoming presidential campaign.

In June, Republican presidential candidates, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich displayed anti-Muslim sentiments during national debates during their perspective campaigns. Muslims across the country were appalled when Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis during a debate in New Hampshire.

According to the most recent Gallup study that at least 4 in 10 in every major religious group in the US say Americans are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans, with Jews, 66 per cent, saying this in slightly higher numbers than Muslims, 60 per cent. The presumed target of terrorist “profiling,” Muslim Americans are also the most likely religious group, 81 per cent, to say that profiling does not work. Americans of other major faiths are split on whether or not it is possible to profile a terrorist on the basis of traits such as gender, age, or ethnicity. Forty-nine percent of Jews, 46 per cent of Catholics, and 44 per cent of Protestants in the US do not think profiling is possible.

Saeed Rehman, a Muslim American business student at NYU, asks questions that plague many Muslim Americans, “So why are we singled out to that degree? As an individual if I don’t break any laws then the government should be able to respect my rights, right?”

The study stated, “Although Muslim Americans believe that they are often the victims of intolerance, Americans who practice Islam are among the most tolerant of US faith groups studied. Muslim Americans’ combined integration tolerance scores — a measure of their appreciation for religious pluralism — is higher than those of Protestant Americans, Catholic Americans, and Jewish Americans and is matched only by those of Mormon Americans.”

Despite all the rhetoric on “Islamophobia” the study concluded that Muslim Americans still feel positive about their future and have confidence in the honesty of the country’s elections more than any other religious group in the United States. The study did recommend the following for the government; assess the degree of anti-Muslim discrimination in America, engage and leverage Muslim Americans’ expertise in the nation’s foreign policy, focus on the mosque as an important institution of Muslim-American mobilisation, and increase opportunities for education and engagement in and among faith groups.

But before any of these recommendations can be considered by any US leader, the US economy remains the number one important current issue. In a strong second comes national security, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration, government ethics and corruption, taxes, health care, social security, and education — issues that affect all Americans.