(Rewritten on Sept 8, 2011)
Since the events of September 11, 2001, Muslims in this country have been under siege. While at least 700,000 Muslims have been interviewed by law enforcement, the story of what Muslims are going through has not really been quantified.
There are five major sources of this lethal mix called Islamophobia in the USA:
1. The work of a network of Islamophobes which was documented recently by the Center for American Progress, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the New York Times, and CBSNews. It has been successful in influencing public policy, as well as the mainstream media.
3. Terrorism and war both fuel Islamophobia. Although beyond the scope of this paper, suicide bombings, anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, attacks on Christian minorities in the Muslim world, Guantanamo Bay, the Abu Ghraib torture cells, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, the CIA’s “black sites“, and the rendering torture schemes, all contribute to an Islamophobic environment in the United States directly or indirectly.
4. The mainstream media, which has regularly tolerated or even encouraged Islamophobic talk, including the distribution of an anti-Muslim hate dvd to their subscribers, before the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
5. The historic prejudice and misinformation about Islam and Muslims which Edward Said talked about in his book Orientalism, as well as the connected media bias which Jack Shaheen discussed in his book Reel Bad Arabs.
These factors have created an environment of an “…anti-Muslim sentiment…similar to American attitudes toward Japanese-Americans during World War II,“ says Jack Levin, a hate-speech expert at Northeastern University in Boston.
This may not be an overstatement in view of the worsening Islamophobic environment in the aftermath of last year’s Park 51 controversy, anti-mosque campaigns, and the “the anti-Sharia freakout.” While there are no detention camps for American Muslims, their American dream has become an ongoing nightmare.
This article attempts to provide a statistical picture of the impact of post-9/11 Islamophobia in the U.S.
Impact of Islamophobia on Public Opinion
While we thank God that no attack like that of 9/11 has recurred, anti-Islamic opinion has risen consistently in the last ten years in the United States. Today, a majority of our neighbors think very negatively of Islam and Muslims. Only 37% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Islam, the lowest rating since 2001, according to a 2010 ABC News/Washington Post poll. According to a 2010 Time magazine poll, 28 percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and nearly one-third think they should be barred from running for president.
According to a Pew Research report, the proportion of Americans who say that Islam has little or nothing in common with their own religion has increased substantially since 2005 (from 59% to 70%).
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that 22 percent of Americans don’t want a Muslim as their neighbor, despite the fact that wherever Muslims live in the U.S., property values rise. Thirty-nine percent also said they favored requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry special identification.
Islamophobic Public Policies
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, constant law enforcement activity across America itself became a policy objective for deterrent purposes, as stated by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft himself:
“The sheer volume of activity…ensured that potential terrorists hiding in our communities knew that law enforcement was on the job in their neighborhoods.
“Such a climate could cause would-be terrorists to scale back, to delay, or to abandon their plans altogether.”
Although it was an utterly false premise, since none of the 9/11 terrorists were from the Muslim American community, it became the main focus of almost all law enforcement activity.
Fear regime created by 700,000 interviewed conducted by FBI
As a result of the above stated policy, as well as for the sake of 9/11 investigations, by 2007, about 700,000 Muslims in America were interviewed by the FBI. The FBI has never formally issued these statistics. However, Michael Rolince, FBI Special Agent in Charge of Counterterrorism, Washington DC office stated in a 2005 speech at the Muslim Public Affairs Committee’s convention a month after his retirement, that the FBI conducted about 500,000 interviews without finding a single lead which could have helped the agency prevent the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That number means that almost 40% of all Muslim households in the United States were touched by this investigation. Here is an interesting quote from his speech:
“We conducted about a half a million interviews post 9/11 relative to the attacks of 9/11, and this is important because your community gets painted as not doing enough and you could have helped. I’m not aware, and I know 9/11 about as well as anybody in the FBI knows 9/11, and that’s not bragging that’s just the reality. I’m not aware of any single person in your community who, had they stepped forward, could have provided a clue to help us get out in front of this.” [underlined by the author]
Unfortunately, this conclusion did not stop the massive FBI dragnet over the Muslim community. In 2007, when I met Rolince for the first time in a London meeting of a think-tank, he not only verified the above-mentioned numbers, but he also said the number by now should be about 700,000.
Secret Evidence and the PATRIOT Act
Although the use of secret evidence predates 9/11, it has been strengthened in the post-9/11 world. No one can possibility defend himself or herself when the evidence is kept secret. But this is what many Muslims continue to face in America. The USA PATRIOT Act with many unconstitutional clauses was passed the day it was introduced, leaving no lawmaker any time to read its 342 pages. That Act established guilt by association, detentions without a hearing, and secret hearings. Some sunset clauses of the act have been renewed without much debate.
Profiling of Muslims
Muslims continue to be profiled throughout America but especially while traveling. No statistics are available about the magnitude of this practice except that it has touched even Muslim officers of the Secret Agency protecting the former President Bush. A Columbia University survey of Muslim students in New York public schools found that 28 percent had been stopped by police as a result of racial profiling. The profiling is not just limited to general Muslims but it extends to well-established Muslims leaders and Imams who the FBI seeks out in outreach efforts. At this moment, three out of five of the most popular Muslim preachers’ travel has been restricted because of this, although none have been charged with a crime or tried in any court of law.
Under the special registration program aimed at Muslim visitors to the US, the government fingerprinted and photographed 144,513 Muslims in the first run. In addition, millions of Muslim visitors to the U.S. from 24 designated Muslim countries have gone through that process. The program was finally suspended indefinitely on April 27th, 2011.
Detentions of Muslims
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the federal government detained thousands of Muslim citizens. However, after an initial tally of 1,200, the Attorney General, through regulation 67 FR 19508, 4-22-02, prohibited all local, county, state or privately run facilities, from issuing statistics regarding detainees. Still, no one knows the actual numbers. Tens of thousands have been detained and deported summarily, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer, and a similarly high number ran away to Canada or their home countries according to Washington Post because of hostility toward Muslims.
The detention story does not end there. Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes have strongly argued in favor of detention. In his article, “Japanese Internment: Why It Was a Good Idea--And the Lessons It Offers Today”, he wrote that America should think of instituting interment camps for American Muslims. Islamophobes are not alone in talking this way. John Ashcroft, when he served as U.S. Attorney General, spoke about the establishment of detention camps. According to the New York Times, in 2006, the Department of Homeland Security signed a contract with a subsidiary of Halliburton for $385 million to build emergency detention facilities for "…an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs in the event of emergencies.”
This suggests that nothing will stop the government from resorting to detention camps. Sounds a bit remote? Remember that we have been down this road before. While that early mass detention regime has gone away, the discussion in the Islamophobic environment survives.
There are already efforts in place, including some among establishment think-tanks, to develop and push through preventive detention laws which may include citizens and green card holders.
Travel related short-term detentions
Many Muslims are routinely detained while coming back to the U.S. Even citizens report being detained at the border for four to nine hours. No statistics are available except that when I was separated from my wife and son and detained for four hours while entering the U.S., I was told by an officer in front of two other officers that about 100,000 people are detained at the border. I do not know if this is fact or a figure of speech. When I was finally allowed to join my family, I met a separately detained British-American Muslim family who had been sitting there for nine hours.
“The ACLU is … calling for an end to the practice of improperly targeting U.S. citizens who are Muslim or perceived to be so, but are not suspected of posing any threat, for questioning by Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection officers about their religious and political beliefs, associations and practices, including religiously-motivated charitable contributions, when they return home to the United States from overseas travel.”
Attack on the Muslim Leadership
According to ACLU’s September 2011 report, “the Department of Justice publicly smeared as terrorism co-conspirators America’s most prominent Muslim civil rights groups, membership organizations, activists, and community leaders, based on unproven allegations of attenuated and often decades-old association with groups that were not designated as terrorists at the time.”
The largest organization of Muslims, CAIR, as per a Gallup survey. is not welcome at government departments as a matter of policy, while several national Muslim leaders have difficulty traveling.
Americans on Hold: Citizenship Delays
As many as 30,000 Muslims have been waiting to become citizens for more than three years, even though U.S. law requires only a 120-day processing time. No fresh study is available to assess if this problem has gone away or still exists.
Attack on the Muslim charity infrastructure
The federal government has been consistently going after Muslim charities since 9/11 as documented by ACLU report “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity. A 2011 ACLU report states that “the Departments of Justice and Treasury severely limited Muslims’ charitable giving by shutting down or freezing the nation’s 15 largest Muslim charities without notice or due process, based on secret evidence, and without providing the charities any meaningful opportunity to defend themselves.” The actual number of charities raided or banned might be closer to 28, according to the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago’s “Charity Without Fear” campaign. Most have not yet seen their day in the court. Others have been unable to defend themselves due to secret evidence. Donors have been intimidated through interviews.
The ACLU notes that “In an independent review of terrorism financing laws, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that there is a lack of accountability for Treasury’s designation and asset blocking. According to the 9/11 Commission staff, Treasury officials acknowledged that in the post-9/11 period, “some of the evidentiary foundations for the early designations were quite weak” and the haste to designate charities after 9/11 “might [have] result[ed] in a high level of false designations.”
Despite President Obama mentioning this problem in his 2009 Cairo speech, no action has been taken so far.
Mosques regularly checked for nuclear bombs
The most bizarre action of the federal government was to check mosques for nuclear bombs. According to USA Today, the program has been run by the FBI and the Department of Energy's Nuclear Emergency Support Team. The program regularly checked mosques in Washington DC, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York, and Seattle. In the Washington, D.C. area, over 100 mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses were monitored regularly. The whole program is organized without using search warrants.
Most likely the program still exists since President Bush established a “Domestic Nuclear Detection Office” with a half-billion dollar budget.
Mosque infiltration by “crawlers” & “rakers”of NYPD
It is not clear how many mosques have been infiltrated by the FBI in California as reported by the Washington Post, or by the New York Police Department’s “mosque crawlers” as reported by the Associated Press in 2011 when the NYPD/CIA used “informants, known as mosque crawlers, to monitor sermons, even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing.” The Program also “dispatched undercover officers, known as ‘rakers,’ into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program.” The Associated Press based it’s story on 40 interviews by current or former officers involved in the project.
According to the respected nypdconfidential.com blog “the NYPD’s spying operation has compiled information on 250 mosques, 12 Islamic schools, 31 Muslim student associations, 263 places it calls “ethnic hotspots,” such as businesses and restaurants, as well as 138 “persons of interest,” according to the Intel documents.
Police have singled out 53 mosques, four Islamic schools and seven Muslim student associations as institutions of “concern.” They have also labeled 42 individuals as top tier “persons of interest.”
In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department planned to map Islamic neighborhoods. The plan was scrapped after criticism, but as the Washington Post reported, the infiltration continued.
Fake former terrorist training law enforcement
Instead of learning from balanced experts on Islam, the government is wasting tax money on using Islamophobes to train law enforcement officers. This includes so-called former terrorists and former Muslims. CNN recently reported that a so-called terrorism expert, Walid Shoebat, is paid with tax dollars and has even appeared on their own network may be a fraud.
It is these type of training which has resulted in NYPD’s 2007 report, Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, which revived the focus on the Muslim community. According to ACLU it is …“the basis for the Muslim ‘radicalization’ theory that has now gained traction with some members of Congress and the White House.”
The NYPD report purports to identify a four-step “radicalization process” through which Muslim terrorists progress. Among the “markers” the NYPD identifies are: growing a beard; becoming involved in social activism and the community; giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling, and hip-hop clothing; trying to find the “meaning of life”, and thinking about “the greater good.” Places the NYPD identified as “[radicalization incubators” include mosques, cafes, student associations, butcher shops, gyms, and bookstores.”
Coercive Recruitment of Informant and Agent Provocateurs
NPR reports that “… there are 15,000 informants working with the FBI. That's nearly three times as many as there were 25 years ago.” Not all are recruited through a job advertisement, although they are paid over $100,000. Mother Jones and the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley which examined the prosecutions of 508 defendants in terrorism-related cases found that nearly half involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money or the need to work off criminal or immigration violations.
The report documents that, “With three exceptions, all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings.”
All is not bad!
A week after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush declared at the Islamic Center in Washington, DC, “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” he said. “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”
The federal government has filed multiple lawsuits to protect religious freedom of Muslims. In the last years of President Bush’s administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked staff to stop using terms like “Islamic terrorism“, “Islamic fascism”, and “Islamic extremism“. That policy has continued in the Obama administration as well.
Thomas Perez, assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights, told a Senate committee that there have been “more than 800 incidents of violence, vandalism, and arson against people believed to be Muslim, Arab or South Asian that the Justice Department has investigated since the September 11 attacks”.
The FBI has moved away from the earlier practice of media-equipped raids on suspects. FBI outreach to the Muslim community is probably responsible for the fact that 40% of all terrorism-related cases were reported by Muslims. There is also a marked reduction in high profile announcements of cases like those of Jose Padilla, Captain James Yee, and others which started off with a high profile launch but eventually fizzled out. These cases used to create an environment of fear in the mind of Americans, directly affecting attitudes toward Muslim neighbors.
As well, President Obama referred to the problems of Muslim charities in his speech from Cairo: "...in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat."
Impact of Islamophobia on the Muslim Community
"To be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith -- not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country's most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery." Time.
The above outlined fear regime which was created by the lethal mix of misinformed public policy, irresponsible media, and well-funded Islamophobes’ campaigns has a serious impact on the life of the Muslim community.
The Economic Impact of Islamophobia
A recent 2011 Gallup Survey, states that higher rates of Muslims say there have been times in the past year when they were unable to afford basic necessities such as food, shelter, and healthcare. Muslims are also the only major U.S. religious group where less than one-half (39%) say they would be able to make a major purchase if they needed to, as compared to 60% Protestants and 68% Jews.
In a 2009 Gallup survey fewer Muslim Americans (65%) reported satisfaction with their standard of living than did the general population (73%).
Far before the recent economic dip, Muslim wages had gone down by 10% according to the University of Illinois and Columbia University, and they have not returned to pre-9/11 levels. These finding were published in the Journal of Human Resources in 2007. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Muslims are the last to be hired and the first to be fired.
Although there are not many reports about the impact on Muslim businesses, the Chicago Reporter noted that Muslim businesses in the Devon neighborhood of Chicago went down by 40 to 50 percent as a result of the government crackdown in the years following 9/11. The Washington Post also reported a similar business impact on the Brooklyn, New York Muslim community.
Public discrimination against Muslims
A 2001 Gallup survey reported that 48% of Muslim Americans said they had personally experienced racial or religious discrimination in the past year. The numbers of U.S. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews who reported the same were about one in five in each of these groups.
A survey of young Arab-Americans (18 to 29 years old) by Zogby International for The Arab American Institute showed a steady increase in the number of young Arab-Americans reporting discrimination. (Their more recent report unfortunately does not provide the comparable age breakdown).
In 2007, 76% of young Arabs said they were personally discriminated against.
In 2004, 65% of young Arab-Americans said the same.
In 2003, only 38% of young Arab-Americans reported that.
Hate Groups are at All-Time High
The Southern Poverty Law Center report “The Year in Hate & Extremism, 2010” noted that for the first time since the Center began counting such groups in the 1980s, hate groups topped 1,000. Time magazine reports that militias have doubled and President Obama is receiving 400% more death threats than President Bush did, according to the Secret Service. Although the rise in hate and hate groups is not directly connected to Islamophobia, it is a significant contributing factor.
Hate Crimes Against Muslims
While discrimination reported by Muslims is far higher, according to public opinion polls by multiple organizations, hate crime statistics continue to be far less for Muslims than Jews, Catholics, or Protestants. According to the latest hate crime statistics available by FBI there were 1,376 offences classified as religious bias. Only nine percent were declared anti-Muslim, while 70% were against Jews. While anti-Semitism continues to survive, acceptance of Jews according to all surveys is far higher than Muslims in the U.S.
Someone needs to make a comparative study of this phenomena. However, a couple of variables might account for this major gap between perceived discrimination reported by surveys and reported hate crimes in the Muslim community. The Jewish community has developed a better institutional system to fight anti-Semitism, with a longer history of the problem than the Muslim community. Most Jews are born in the U.S., as compared to two-thirds of Muslims who were born overseas and thus may be willing to tolerate hate instead of fighting back. It may also reflect Muslims’ fear of law enforcement, based on its treatment of the community post- 9/11.
The Great Anti-Sharia Freakout
Muslims live Sharia everyday when we pray, fast, earn honestly, offer charity, eat Halal, take care of our families and Masjids, as well as serve our communities. However, the term “Sharia” is fast becoming a term of hate at the hands of Islamophobes to attack Islam. This has dangerous, far-reaching consequences for American Muslims which have already begun.
Three states have passed anti Sharia-laws since 2010 and 25 states are discussing 49 bills against this manufactured threat promoted by Islamophobic experts.
Anti-Masjid (mosque) campaigns
Whereas the most prominent target of hate became the “ground zero mosque” in 2010, which is neither a mosque nor on Ground Zero, building a mosque in America today has become like picking a fight with one’s neighbors. A Pew report noted that “at least three dozen other communities across the country battles are being waged”. This seems to be due more to an absence of information than close to reality. In the Chicago area, six communities recently fought legal battles to build their mosques. Islamophobic misinformation experts perpetuate the notion that mosques are no longer houses of worship but centers of extremism. Based on this misinformation, New York Republican Rep. Peter King asserted his belief that over 80 percent of the mosques in America are controlled by radical Imams. In reality, a scholarly mosque study by Duke “concluded that contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism.”
Impact on Young Muslims
According to a Columbia University survey, seven percent of public school going Muslim children are physically beaten up. The survey also found that 28 percent had been stopped by police.
A Gallup survey of 2009 found that 26 percent of Muslim youth in the United States reported feeling angry as compared to 14 percent of Protestant youth and 18 percent of the general American population. They are angrier than their parents. This survey had 10 questions on mental health and almost all results when it came to young Muslims revealed that they were the least happy and the most angry.
Only 40 percent of Muslim youth surveyed by Gallup considered themselves to be “thriving” as compared to 61 percent of Protestants and 53 percent of the general U.S. population. That is the lowest level among all youth groups surveyed.
Only 59 percent of young Muslims responded yes to the question “do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or the area in which you live” as compared to 70 percent of youth in the general U.S. population.
The Gallup survey found that young Muslims are also less likely to be employed. Sixty-seven percent as opposed to 79 percent of young Protestants who have jobs. Muslim youth were also the least likely youth group to report being satisfied with their jobs.
The human face of this pressure from Islamophobia can be found in cases like that of a Muslim girl featured on the NPR program “This American Life” in December 2006. The show detailed how she went from being a well-adjusted student to a pariah mocked by fellow students and teachers for her faith This was at a school in an unnamed small town in the state of New York. As a result, she wanted to leave Islam and her parents split up.
Impact on the Mental Health of Muslims
Fifty percent of Arab-Americans surveyed in a Yale University study, according to the USA Today, found to have clinical symptoms of depression. The USA Today connects this finding with the anti-Muslim environment. The author first noted the phenomena when a Sound Vision article on 25 Ways To Deal With Stress And Anxiety became one of the most popular articles at our website and a book named Don’t be Sad became a hot selling item. Now, there is a Journal of Muslim Mental Health published by Muslim mental health professionals in the US.
Muslim social services organizations are also growing quickly, at least in Chicago, than other institutions due to socio-economic pressures felt by the community.
What has happened to civil rights and human rights in the U.S. in the post-9/11 world is not quite known yet. Unless a federal government commission is established with authority to demand information we will probably never know the actual extent of the impact of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is lethal, as the deaths of 77 innocent people in Norway at the hands of the terrorist Anders Breivik demonstrate. He was motivated to stop an imagined Sharia takeover of Europe. He had no less than 162 citations of Islamophobic American “experts” Steven Emerson and Robert Spencer in his manifesto.
U.S. government and civil society must take the necessary steps to recognize that Islamophobia, like anti-Semitism, is an expression of racism and xenophobia directed against Muslims. It must also acknowledge in public policy and through the mainstream media its existence and effects, following the lead of the United Kingdom and the United Nations. In 1996, the UK-based Runnymede Trust established the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia. In 2004, the United Nations convened the conference “Confronting Islamophobia: Education for Tolerance and Understanding” in New York.
We must confront and combat Islamophobia, the only acceptable racism left in America.
This attitude towards the faith of 1.5 billion people is harmful for America and humanity.