For the last 19 years, 9/11 has been a somber, difficult day — a day of mourning for Americans. On it, we commemorate the 2,977 lives lost when terrorist flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania.
While the attacks that day caused direct devastation, myriad aftershocks have had other horrifying consequences — notably, the endless wars the U.S. started in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another, immediate effect of the attacks was a rise in Islamophobia throughout the United States. Though Islamophobia certainly wasn’t invented in 2001, political and social reactions to 9/11 fuelled ignorance and bigotry and violence towards Muslims.
And this wasn’t just limited to the weeks following 9/11, in the years since then, anti-Islamic hate crimes have surged across the U.S. This rise in Islamophobia is well-documented, which made it all the more surprising that New York Times journalist Paul Krugman tweeted earlier today that “there wasn’t a mass outbreak of anti-Muslim sentiment and violence.”
In the months following 9/11, the number of hate crimes against Muslims jumped: In 2000, there were just 28 recorded hate crimes; in 2001, there were 481. While anti-Muslim hate crimes used to be the second-least reported type of religious-bias incidents, they quickly became the second-highest reported; Muslims spoke out about being shamed and physically assaulted in public.
In the week after September 11 alone, three people were killed because of Islamophobia. On September 15, Balbir Singh Sodhi — who was Sikh but, according to NPR, was mistaken for being Muslim because of his turban — was killed in Arizona. The same day, Waqar Hasan and Vasudev Patel were gunned down in Texas, where the perpetrator said he did it to “avenge” the United States on 9/11.
The hatred hasn’t stopped, and anti-Muslim sentiment fuelled by 9/11 continues to affect Muslims in America. In a survey from 2017, 75% of Muslim Americans said there’s a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the United States, with 48% of those surveyed responding they had experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the last year. Across America, Muslims have continued to speak out about the ways they’re treated with suspicion, called names, or singled out by airport security.
“I have to go an extra hour earlier than anybody else, because it’s not random checking,” Nafees Syed, who wears a hijab, told the New York Times in 2016.
To educate people and change the mindset that Islam is synonymous with terrorism, Muslim activists and organisers like Heraa Hashmi, who created MuslimsCondemn.com, have worked to spread awareness. She and others have attempted to shift the narrative against Muslims that has been pervasive since 2001, and make people understand the faults of stereotyping a whole religion of 1.6 billion people.
“I wanted to show people how weak the argument that Muslims don’t care about terrorism is,” Hashmi told The Guardian. Teachers, too, have found the need to create special curricula to talk about 9/11 and contextualise and correct anti-Muslim sentiment.
Islamophobia has also been fuelled by politicians, including our current president and members of his cabinet. After Trump’s 2016 campaign started, Islamophobia peaked, and the number of assaults against Muslims in America rose significantly between 2015 and 2016, surpassing the peak that had been reached in 2001, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of hate crimes statistics.
Before he even got to the White House, Trump falsely alleged that Muslims were cheering in New York after 9/11 and celebrating the attacks. One of his first acts in office was to attempt to implement a “Muslim ban” — an attempt to suspend immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.
Today, many Muslims are still struggling with both the ignorance and hatred fueled by Islamophobia, as well as constant political attacks. “We must always acknowledge and remember that Islamophobia has always existed in this country, specifically against enslaved people and Black American Muslims post-slavery. After 9/11, hatred for Muslims intensified, masked under a guise of national security and justified fear of others. This manifested into the creation of ICE, the TSA, desecration of mosques, and hate crimes,” Reina Sultan, a Muslim journalist, tells Refinery29. “That’s not normal mourning, that’s deadly racism and it’s continuing today with a fascist president who enacted a Muslim ban as soon as he entered office.”
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