Evaluating Americas History Of Islamophobia After September eleven Criminology Essay

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September 11, 2001 was a day of tragedy for Americans. Islamic extremists hijacked four commercial jetliners and turned them towards targets on American soil. As news reports came in, people all over the world began to learn of what was happening on America's East Coast. It would not be long before it was found that it was Islamic extremists who were behind the attacks. Members from the terrorist group al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, were responsible for the devastation. Once again Muslims were being thrust into the spotlight of the media with acts of violence perpetrated by extremists, casting Muslims in a bad light. After the attacks, Muslims as well as though who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, became a target for those Americans who sought to blame anyone of the Muslim religion or from Arab nations (Stubbs 2004). Terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists are often committed on behalf of an extreme form of Islam, causing many Americans believe that Islam is a religion of violence and hate. Most Americans do not understand that the majority of Muslims do not agree with what the extremists are doing. Instead they label Muslims as bad people who only want to bring harm and destruction to innocent people. There were three major events in relatively recent US history that changed Americans' views towards Muslims-the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979, the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and the attacks and ultimate destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 (Peña 2009). Since September 11 was not an isolated incident of terrorism committed against Americans by Islamic extremists, it is necessary to give a brief background of past attacks committed against Americans. This paper will then further explore the attacks of 9/11, the effects it had on Muslim Americans, and the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia in the United States.


For decades Islamic extremists have been committing acts of violence against the innocent in the name of Allah, leading some to believe that Islam is a religion of violence. The September 11th attacks were not the first time Americans had been the target of Islamic extremists. On November 4, 1979, Iranian supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, an Islamic fundamentalist, took over the US embassy in Tehran, Iran. For 444 days the Iranians held 52 Americans hostage. This was the first time Islamic extremists directly targeted Americans. During the hostage crisis, Iranians in the US were being scrutinized for their ethnicity and at one point there was even support to deport Iranians from the United States (McAlister 2002). Although President Carter attempted to negotiate the hostages release it was to no avail. On April 25, 1980, under President Carter's direction, a rescue mission was attempted but ultimately had to be aborted due to mechanical failure of three helicopters. Upon exit one of the helicopters crashed into a plane where eight Delta Force soldiers were killed (McAlister 2002). Eventually the hostages were released on January 20, 1981, the day of President Regan's inauguration.

On February 26, 1993, members of al-Qaeda planted a bomb in a van and parked it in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York. As a result of the explosion, over 1,000 people were injured and six were killed (www.fbi.gov). Although the FBI suspected Islamic extremists were behind the attacks they didn't know who they were looking for. The FBI got a break when one of the suspected terrorists tried to get back a $400 deposit on the van used in the bombing, which he had reported stolen that day (www.fbi.gov). In all there were seven Islamic extremists involved in the bombing, six of whom were convicted, while the seventh, Abdul Yasin remains at large to this day (www.fbi.gov).


Although Islamophobia is more evident in America since the September 11th attacks, there were instances in the past where Islamic extremists were the presumed perpetrators of certain attacks. The most notable of these attacks is the Oklahoma City Bombing. Two years after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, on April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed by a bomb placed in a Ryder rental truck (www.fbi.gov). After the bombing, the news began reporting that this was an act of terrorism caused by Islamic extremists and that the FBI was looking for Middle Eastern suspects (Nacos and Torres-Reyna 2002). Shortly after these announcements, people who looked Arab, Muslim, or Middle Eastern became the victims of angry Americans (Nacos and Torres-Reyna 2002). Ultimately, an American by the name of Timothy McVeigh was behind the bombing and, as it turned out, he looked nothing like a Middle Easterner. The quick assumption that the Oklahoma City Bombing was the work of Muslim terrorists shows our country's disposition to automatically associate terrorism with Islamic extremists, although clearly this is not always the case.


On September 11, 2011, 19 members of Osama bin Laden's Islamic terrorist network al-Qaeda boarded four commercial jetliners leaving from different airports in the United States. Not long after takeoff, the Islamic terrorists hijacked the planes with plans for destruction. Two of the jetliners hit the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York. Another hit a wing of the Pentagon, while the fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after Americans aboard the plane overpowered their Islamic captors knowing full well they would crash rather than have the terrorists hit another unknown target. Chaos ensued in New York as onlookers watched the Towers burn and within hours they eventually collapsed. Rescue workers scrambled to try to save who they could. The attacks that day left nearly 3,000 people dead and thousands more injured. As reports of the attacks came in, calls for vengeance came from Americans across the country.

After the attacks, the Muslim community automatically became associated with terrorists (Abu-Ras and Suarez 2009). In the weeks following, Muslims and those who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent were the victims of hate crimes in what seemed to be personal retaliation for 9/11 (Stubbs 2004). The types of hate crimes that were committed included murder, assault, death threats, arson, and vandalism (Ibish 2003). In 2001, hate crimes termed as "anti-Islamic" by the FBI rose to 481 from just 36 in the year 2000 (www.fbi.gov). The FBI's annual reporting of hate crimes for 2001 identified a more than 1600% increase in hate crimes perpetrated against Middle Easterners, Arabs and Sikhs (Stubbs 2004 and www.fbi.gov). Additionally, as many as 19 people who appeared to be Muslim or Arab were murdered (Stubbs 2004 and Ahmad 2004). One of the murderers, Mark Stroman who killed an Indian man and a Pakistani man stated after his arrest, "I did what every American wanted to do but didn't" (Ahmad 2004). When another man by the name of Frank Roque was arrested for killing Balbir Singh Sodhi he claimed "I'm a patriot… I'm a damn American all the way" (Ahmad 2004). Another man tried to run over a Pakistani woman claiming that she was "destroying my country" (Ahmad 2004). The violence perpetrated against Muslims and Arabs were not confined to verbal or physical assault. Mosques, homes, and business belonging to those fit the profile were vandalized (Stubbs 2004 and Ahmad 2004).

In the two years that followed anti-Islamic hate crimes remained higher than they were prior to the September 11th attacks. In 2003, a woman who was wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf was stabbed in the back while being called a terrorist pig (Ahmad 2004). Also in 2003, a wooden cross was burned outside a Mosque in Maryland (Ahmad 2004). In 2002, the FBI documented 174 anti-Islamic hate crimes and in 2003, 171 (www.fbi.gov). Of course those are just the crimes that were reported.


In addition to verbal and physical attacks, Muslims also face non-violent prejudice, quickly becoming known as Islamophobia. After the September 11th attacks, 79% of Americans approved of the government using racial profiling of people who were thought to be Arab or Muslim (Gross and Livingston 2002). A surprising 40% of Americans admitted to having prejudicial feelings towards Muslims and Arabs and 39% of Americans felt that Muslims should carry special ID cards (Rahim 2010). Furthermore, 31% of Americans said they would be nervous if there was Muslim man on their flight and 22% said they would be uncomfortable having a Muslim neighbor (Abu-Ras and Suarez 2009). A few weeks after the attacks a Pakistani businessman was removed from his first class seat on a Delta Airlines flight because the crew felt uncomfortable flying with him onboard (Ahmad 2004).

But prejudice against Muslims wasn't only occurring to adults. In an address to the US Senate Committee in March 2011, Hon. R. Alexander Acosta recanted a story about a little Muslim girl in Oklahoma,

At the start of the 2003 school year… [Nashala] told her sixth grade public school teacher that she was Muslim, and that as part of her faith, she wore a headscarf, or hijab. The teacher at that time did not object, and Nashala happily attended school for the next month. That changed on September 11, 2003, when her teacher asked her to remove her headscarf. The school permitted students to wear both non-religious and religious head-coverings, including baseball caps and kippahs, but wanted her to remove her headscarf because it "frightened" other students. Nashala declined, and was sent to the principal's office. Her question for the principal was rather precocious "My friends can wear their crosses to school. Why can't I wear my hijab?" The principal insisted that she remove her headscarf, and when Nashala declined, citing both her faith and modesty, the principal suspended her from school. Nashala returned to school on October 7, still wearing her headscarf, and was again suspended. [Acosta 2011:2]

Muslim and Arab students have also experienced death threats from other students and bias and harassment from their own teachers (Singh 2002). It is apparent that Muslim prejudice happens not only to adults but children as well. It can happen anywhere and at anytime.


There is clearly a tense history between Americans and Islam. Islamic extremists from several different countries have shed a bad light on Muslims here in America. Although everyone in America, as well as people in other countries, were affected in some way by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Muslims were dually affected because they were targeted in retaliation with harassment and discrimination (Abu-Ras and Suarez 2009), much of which still exists today. Even those who are not Muslim but appear to be of Middle Eastern descent have been facing discrimination in America since the attacks. Even now, almost 10 years after the attacks, our government is still addressing the issue of Muslim American rights.


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