Last Updated 31 Jan 2023

The Muslim Experience Post 9/11

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In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, many societal shifts took place, as much of the US mourned the loss of thousands of lives. However, the community would not mourn collectively, as a divide was quickly forming. Behind the Backlash, Muslim Americans After 9/11, examines the unusually swift and harsh judgment of Muslim Americans as they became the sole scapegoats for the largest terrorist attack in world history.

The painful reality became readily clear – that when human-induced tragedy occurs, people have a ‘need’ to place blame and responsibility. It unfortunately has proven to be an innate part of the healing process of a community, providing an (though ill-placed) rationale and ‘explanation’ for an otherwise incomprehensible event.

Lori Peek, Author and Professor, seeks to examines how previously held stereotypes, stigmas, prejudice, and blatant ignorance against the Islamic religion and its peaceful followers led to the virtually instantaneous abuse suffered by Muslim Americans at the hands of said ‘patriotic’ Americans. Thus, though much of the novels focus is the Muslim experience post 9/11, Peek also seeks to uncover the unfortunate reality they had been suffering for decades prior.

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In the days following 9/11, Peek was quick to recognize that “crisis events offer important opportunities for learning about human behavior and group life.” She explains that these disasters highlight social systems that are existent but normally work underlyingly. These disasters, therefore, serve to unmask the inner workings of these systems and help ‘unravel the weakest seams in the larger social fabric, intensifying preexisting inequalities and prejudices.”

The overall goal being one of restorative action and the rebuilding of a community, physically and emotionally. However, within this new temporary reality of social ‘solidarity’ exists a counter-part behavior, one of alienation and marginalization of a subpart of the community.

Those sharing the attributes - ethnic and religious - of the perpetrators of 9/11, Arab Muslims. Consequently, the same “increased feelings of patriotism and national unity”  that brought positive cohesive support, gave way to the ostracism of the whole Muslim American community. They are ultimately dehumanized, as even friends and colleagues’ question if they are “happy that it happened?” They are not allowed to mourn nor given the right to be equal victims in this tragedy.

Author Lori Peek is a Professor at University of Colorado at Boulder. She has been awarded in her scholarship, teaching, and service in broader hazards and disaster in her field of Sociology. Her key works include this novel, Children of Katrina, and co-editing Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora. Peek admits in her introduction that she, too, was previously uneducated on beliefs and practices of those following Islam.

She had no exposure, growing up in rural eastern Kansas, where the population was composed of white protestants – Baptists and Methodists. Her first serious exposure came years after college, while she coordinated a “program aimed at retaining ethnic minority university students pursuing degrees in natural sciences.”

There she met Aisha, a sophomore and Afghanistan native, who asks to use extra office space for prayer during school, sparking Peek’s interest and subsequent personal work of scholarship.

She conducts a series of interviews over a 2-year period, each lasting 1-4 hours, transcribing them verbatim. Her participant group is relatively limited and somewhat skewed; composed of actively practicing Muslims, eighteen to thirty-five years of age, and enrolled or recent graduates.

Chapter Two, Under Attack, is a general description of the events of 9/11 and the immediate backlash suffered. Official statistics, unfortunately, grossly underreport the hate crimes committed and do little to convey the impact had on the consequent shaping of the community’s experience and changing identity during that time.

Encountering Intolerance, Chapter Three, focuses on the intolerance long-endured by immigrant and native-born Muslims. Peek notes a sense of inferiority and of being ‘different’ can begin in “children as young as 2, [who] understand that race and gender are important characteristics that define individuals and confer certain privileges or disadvantages on entire groups.”

This is, in part, ironic, as the “conflation of physical characteristics and religious beliefs is problematic on multiple levels and obscures the fact that Muslims represent a transnational, multiethnic religious community.” (pg 63) Community and religious leaders are at the forefront of the defamation all Muslim Americans, repeatedly stating “there is no such thing as a peaceful Islam…”  “they want to coexist until they can control, dominate, and then if need be, destroy.”

This challenges Muslims self-perception as loyal citizens. General mistrust, suspicion, contempt, and worse, fear, towards the community is the ultimate catalyst in the perpetuation of abuse. This forces the community to decide whether to remain loyal to their religious customs and attributes or assimilate to American culture and publicly cast-off key markers of their religion.

The following chapters, Repercussions and Adaptations, serves to address how Muslims therefore acclimate to their sudden exclusion. In turn, creating a deeper inclusion within the community itself. Most importantly, an increase of self-identification with the Islamic religion, strengthening loyalty and dependence on the community for a deeper purpose and meaning. Individuals focused “more intently on religious tradition” with a sense of obligation to defend their religion and religious identity.

Chapters held many of the same themetic anectodes. Would like to have learned therefore their more profounde effect on the psyche of the Muslim American moving forward. As well as like to have learned about the more violent repercussions and they’re more profound affect, rather than short-term.

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