This series of posts is adapted from a presentation I delivered to the Atlanta Freethought Society on May 13, 2018. I should offer the following caveats: I am neither an historian nor a scholar; therefore, this information is admittedly incomplete and may contain errors. I welcome any corrections or comments.
Part 10: 9/11 and the 21st Century
Although American Muslims track very closely with their Christian counterparts in terms of level of education, household income, crime rate, etc., the popular perception of Muslims by mainstream America has been shaped mostly by racism, xenophobia, religious bigotry and downright ignorance.
In the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11, American perception of Muslims (whether citizens or not) has only gotten worse. There’s no arguing that the worldwide Muslim community has an ongoing terrorism problem, but it’s also a fact that, since 9/11, you are far more likely to be a victim of white Christian terrorism on American soil than Islamic terrorism. None of this has been helped by the fact that, for decades, Muslims have been depicted quite narrowly by liberal Hollywood and the national news media as barbarians, terrorists or oil sheiks, or if you’re a woman, as a harem girl, a belly dancer, or a burka-encased cypher.
Since 9/11 America’s relationship with its Muslim citizens has been a mixed bag. George W. Bush admirably resisted labeling all Muslims as terrorists, but he also inaccurately declared that “Islam is peace”. And it’s still shocking to me—pleasantly shocking—that we Americans were able to overcome our post-9/11 panic regarding anything Islamic, enough to elect a man with the decidedly Muslim name of Barack Hussein Obama (a man with a Protestant-turned-agnostic white mother and a Muslim-turned-atheist black father), a man who spent some of his formative years in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
But, the pendulum swings, and in 2016 it swung hard to the right, with the election of Donald Trump, a man with no political experience who ran on a platform that included a “total ban on Muslims entering America.” This campaign promise has manifested itself as three successive travel bans that affect several Muslim-majority countries.It’s interesting to note that no Muslim terrorist on American soil has ever come from any of the countries on the current ban.
This ban has traveled through the courts like a toxic pinball, and was finally argued before the Supreme Court just last month. (The safe bet is that the conservative majority on the Court will side with the president, and will claim that the president has wide latitude when it comes to immigration policy and national security, even if those policies are not grounded in reality and cannot be shown to have any substantive benefit in protecting America against terrorism.)
And so here we are. Muslim Americans are just Americans. They’re laborers and legislators, scientists and teachers, businesspeople and entertainers, heroes and cowards, and a few, as we know, have been terrorists.
Muslim Americans will likely experience the same generational cycle as all Americans who came before: the first generation will struggle to find their place in America; their children will be largely assimilated into the American mainstream; and THEIR grandchildren as well as OURS will wonder what the fuss was all about.