American Muslims Ten Years After 9/11 | by Abdus Sattar Ghazali

by Sep 21, 2011All Articles

On the second anniversary of the ghastly tragedy of 9/11 I wrote:

“Two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Muslim community in America, victim of guilt by association, remains under siege. Profiled, harassed, reviled, attacked, peeped at by the CIA and the FBI, interrogated and permanently controlled at airports, the whole community felt excluded of American society. After the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were imprisoned in 10 relocation camps in the United States. But after 9/11 2001, the whole country is converted into a virtual detention camp for the Muslims by abridging their civil rights.”
Ten years later, this is true today as the seven-million American Muslims remained besieged through reconfiguration of US laws, policies and priorities in the post-9/11 era. Alarmingly, the post-911 America has become less friendly to Muslims to the extent that they have probably replaced other minorities – Hispanics, Native Americans and Afro Americans – as targets of discrimination, hate and prejudice. Many American Muslims have a story of discriminative treatment ranging from physical attacks, a nasty gaze, casual comments to work place harassment, burning mosques and the Quran. Muslims have witnessed the ever-growing marginalization of their communities.

According to a PEW survey released on August 30, 2011, forty-three percent had personally experienced harassment in the past year. The survey also said that 52 two percent of Muslim Americans complained that their community is singled out by government for surveillance.

The 9/11 attacks have left a lasting and damaging image for American Muslims who to this day are still fighting stereotypes and a negative image. The challenge that most Muslims face is their concern in the way they dress or their name might make them an easy target for stereotyping. Arab and Muslim Americans increasingly feel targeted by negative media portrayals and concerned about profiling.

Anti-Sharia bills

A decade after 9/11, the backlash against American Muslims shows no signs of improvement and 2010-2011 witnessed a wave of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hatred campaign sweeping the country in the shape of the so-called anti-Sharia bills introduced in about 20 states. The bills were patterned on a template produced by leading Islamophobe David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew, who founded an organization in 2006 with the acronym SANE (the Society of Americans for National Existence) with the aim of banishing Islam from the US. He proposed a law that would make adherence to Islam a felony punishable by 20 years in prison. In February this year Tennessee State Senator Bill Ketron and Representative Judd Matheny (both Republicans) had introduced similar bills to make it illegal to follow Islamic moral code which includes religious practices like feet-washing and prayers.

There is fallout on Muslims of these anti-Sharia campaigns which began November 2010 in Oklahoma when the voters by a 70-30 percent margin passed a ballot question that barred “state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.” The new law — which was widely considered as unfairly targeting the Muslim community and blaming it for the non-existent threat of Sharia law in the United states — was blocked by an injunction issued just a few weeks later by federal judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange. The judge argued that the Sharia ban was unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and unfairly singled out Muslims.

The anti-Sharia campaigns increase bias among the public by endorsing the idea that Muslims are second-class citizens. They encourage and accelerate both the acceptability of negative views of Muslims and the expression of those negative views by the public and government agencies like the police.

Not surprisingly, January 2010 Gallup Poll showed that 53% of Americans have unfavorable views of Islam, more than any other religion, and 43% admit to feeling “at least a little prejudice” toward Muslims. This negative attitude was corroborated in the latest Gallup poll (released on August 2, 2011) which says at least 4 in 10 in every major religious group in the U.S. say Americans are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans, with Jews (66%) saying this.

The non-existent threat of Sharia, or Islamic law, to the American way of life is going to be a major debate topic among Republican presidential candidates this cycle. As the Republican presidential nomination process begins, at least two GOP potential candidates – Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich – are making a name for themselves as the Islamophobia candidates.

The seven-million strong American Muslim community was dismayed at the anti-Muslim sentiment displayed by Republican presidential candidates during June 13, 2011 debate in New Hampshire. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s compared Muslims to Nazis.[1]

Since 9/11, there has been a steady rise in Islamophobia, however during mid-term election campaign there was an exponential rise of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry. Many Religious Right leaders and opportunist politicians asserted repeatedly that Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist ‘jihadis.’ There was a substantial increase in the number of political candidates using Islamophobic tactics in an effort to leverage votes, and use such tactics as a platform to enhance their political visibility. [2]

Consequently, Muslims rejected the Republican Party at the polls in 2008 and 2010. According to the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, just 2.2 percent of Muslims voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008.

As Stephan Salisbury reported, during the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties. In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican House members and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the Beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals. [3]

Peter King’s Muslim phobia

As the cottage industry of self-styled national security experts, pundits, Republican operatives, think tanks, and advocacy groups have spent years in fuelling anti-Muslim bigotry, Republican head of the congressional Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King is stoking Islamophbia through his controversial hearings on what he calls the “radicalization” of the American Muslim community. [4]

In a bid to cast suspicion upon the seven-million strong American Muslim community by stoking anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia, Peter King has held three anti-Muslim hearings so far and hopes to stage more in future. The first hearing, held on March 10, 2011, was denounced by a number of Congressmen, including the former Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. After the shooting in Arizona last January that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) injured and six dead, the ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Thompson called for King to expand his focus. The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is not Muslim.

On June 15, he continued Muslim witch-hunt with another controversial hearing. The focus of the second hearing was on the “threat of Muslim-American radicalization in U.S. prisons,” and though King painted the threat as serious, but there was little evidence to support that claim.

Republican Rep. Peter King continued his anti-Muslim witch-hunt on July 27, 2011 with his congressional hearing on the so-called “radicalization” of American Muslims. This time the focus of his hearing was the Somali community. This was King’s third such hearing that came five days after the Oslo Massacre by the right-wing terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik who was perhaps radicalized by a group of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam American bloggers and zealots such as Bat Ye’or, Daniel Pipes, Hugh Fitzgerald, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer Walid Shoebat. Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee’s top Democrat, pointed to the Norway tragedy as one reason the hearings should not solely focus on Muslim extremists.

Under the guise of reviewing preparedness for any possible terrorist attack, another anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hearing was held by the New York State Senate on, April 8, 2011. Like the similar Muslim-bashing hearings by the Republican congressman Peter King, the New York hearing drew sharp rebuke by Democrats. In a letter addressed to Republican lawmaker Greg Ball, who called the controversial hearing, 11 Democrats said that the hearing is designed to “isolate and villify Muslims.”

On March 29, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin held the first-ever Congressional hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims by saying a “backlash” which began after the attacks of September 11, 2001, continues against “innocent Muslims, Arabs, south Asians and Sikhs.” American Muslims are entitled to the same constitutional protections as other Americans, Durbin said, adding that this is an issue of “not just free exercise of religion but freedom of speech.” Tellingly the hearing was largely ignored by the media.

Exponential rise of Islamophobia in post 9/11 America

Recent years have witnesses an exponential rise in Islamophobia which should be understood as a potent political tool that is used to exploit fear to gain political mileage. According to the CAIR/UC Berkeley report [5] of June 2011, Muslim-bashing factored into the 2010 midterm elections and is already front and center in the upcoming presidential campaign. It says that Islamophobia has actually increased since the election of President Barack Obama, with right-wing Republicans feeding on anti-Muslim sentiments and fears over the so-called Sharia law.

The anti-Muslim sentiment in America is being generated by a cottage industry of Muslim bashers and Islamophobic groups. Some individuals, institutions and groups are at the center of pushing Islamophobia in America.

A recent report – The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America – by the Center for American Progress report reveals that more than $42 million from seven foundations over the past decade have helped fan the flames of anti-Muslim hate in America. The top seven contributors to promoting Islamophobia in the country: Donors Capital Fund, Richard Mellon Scaife foundations, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust, Russell Berrie Foundation, Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund and Fairbrook Foundation.

Not surprisingly, the self-proclaimed Islamic expert Steven Emerson has collected 3.39 million dollars for his for-profit company in 2008 for researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism. In an investigative report titled “Anti-Muslim crusaders make millions spreading fear,” Bob Smietana of The Tennessean pointed out that Emerson is a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances. He went on to say: “Leaders of the so-called “anti-jihad” movement portray themselves as patriots, defending America against radical Islam.[6]

Oslo Massacre: Connections to US extremists Geller & Spencer

Tellingly, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, just happen to be among the heroes cited in the 1,500-page manifesto written by Andrew Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist whose anti-Muslim paranoia apparently drove him to kill 77 people, most of them kids, on July 22, 2011. According to the New York Times, Breivik was deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers lacing his manifesto with quotations from them, as well as copying multiple passages from the tract of the Unabomber. [7]

Unsurprisingly, on that day, for hours Pamela Geller, Steve Emerson, Daniel Pipes, Dennis Prager, David Horowitz, CNN, Fox News and many others were touting the Oslo massacre as most likely an act of Muslim Jihadists.

Breivik is apparently an avid fan of U.S.-based anti-Muslim activists such as Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes. He lauds the Stop Islamization of America co-founded by Geller and Spencer. JihadWatch of Robert Spencer was cited 112 times. Breivik cited Robert Spencer 54 times in his manifesto. Pamela Geller, and her blog, Atlas Shrugs, was mentioned 12 times. Daniel Pipes is cited 11 times and his blog 14 times.

The nexus of Islamophobia and right-wing extremism was clearly on display during last summer’s “Ground Zero mosque” hysteria, which culminated in a rally where Geller and Wilders addressed a crowd that included members of the the English Defense League (EDL) waving Israeli flags. Breivik is also a fan of EDL.

Islamophobia – now in American Children’s books

As if the adult media’s vitriol wasn’t enough, the American Muslims are now being faced by the alarming publication of a series of ‘children’s books’, containing misleading and inflammatory rhetoric about the Islamic faith. The 10-book series – entitled the “World of Islam,” – is published by Mason Crest Publishing in collaboration with the Philadelphia-based pro-Israel and pro-war Foreign Policy Research Institute. [8]

One of the book in the series – “Muslims in America” – says that “some Muslims began immigrating to the United States in order to transform American society, sometimes through the use of terrorism.” The cover of Radical Islam features a machine gun and a Muslim head scarf, with what looks like bloodstains underneath the scarf and the title word Radical. The book is rife with incorrect information and fear mongering and ultimately seeks to paint a picture that Muslims in America are to be treated with suspicion and that they all have links to terrorism.

The latest attempt to demonize Muslims and Islam came in the shape of a children coloring book titled “We Shall Never Forget 9/11: The Kids’ Book of Freedom.” The 36-page “graphic novel coloring book” published recently by St. Louis, Mo. Publisher Wayne Bell virtually characterizes all Muslims as linked to extremism, terrorism and radicalism, which may lead children reading the book to believe that all Muslims are responsible for the tragedy of 9/11. It could give a message to children that followers of the Islamic faith are their enemies.

Criminalizing Muslim communities

On August 24, 2011, the Muslim American community was shocked at the revelation that the New York City Police Department have carried out covert surveillance on Muslims with the help of the CIA. An Associated Press (AP) report published by the Washington Post [9] exposed the NYPD spy program, which is allegedly being conducted with the assistance of individuals linked to the CIA. Following a month-long investigation, the AP reported that the NYPD is using covert surveillance techniques “that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government” and “does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.”

The AP report follows a recent Mother Jones [10] revelation that after years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the FBI now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies — many of them tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. “In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.” The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.”

Earlier in May 2011, a report by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law pointed out that since September 11, 2001, the U.S. government has targeted Muslims in the United States by sending paid, untrained informants into mosques and Muslim communities. According to the report – titled “Targetted & trapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States” – ”, this practice has led to the prosecution of more than 200 individuals in terrorism-related cases which the government has touted as successes in the so-called war against terrorism. However, in recent years, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, local lawmakers, the media, the public, and community-based groups have begun questioning the legitimacy and efficacy of this practice, alleging that—in many instances—this type of policing, and the resulting prosecutions, constitute entrapment, the report said.

It’s guilty until proven innocent for American Muslim charities

One area of major concern to American Muslims is the treatment of Muslim charities in the post-9/11 era. In the name of “anti-terror financing campaign,” the government has launched a systematic campaign against the Muslim American charities. Soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government shut down three major U.S.-based charities – Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Global Relief Foundation and Benevolence International Foundation – for allegedly funneling support to terrorists.

Since 2001, Islamic charities have struggled to deal with the uncertainty caused by the material support provision. According to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, “Muslims fulfilling their obligation to contribute to [charity]…risk inadvertently supporting a current or future [Foreign Terrorist Organization]. In 2004, in order to avoid this, Muslim leaders asked the DOJ for a list of acceptable charities. The DOJ responded that their request was ‘impossible to fulfill’ and that it was ‘not in a position to put out lists of any kind, particularly of any organizations that are good or bad.’” Several people have already been jailed in the United States for their charitable activities in the Islamic world. [11]

On September 1, 2011, the US 5th Circuit Appeals Court was scheduled to hear arguments on behalf of five convicted Holy Land Foundation (HLF) principles: HLF Co-founder, President and CEO Shukri Abu Baker received 65 years in prison; Co-founder, Chairman and former Executive Director Ghassan Elashi also got 65 years; Mohammed el-Mezain, former Chairman, Head of California Operation 15 years; Top fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader 20 years, and Abdulrahman Odeh, Director of HLF East (New Jersey) 15 years.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has created at least two CMUs, or Communications Management Units, (Terre Haute in Indiana and Marion in Illinois) where overwhelmingly inmates are Muslim which include Ghassan Elashi, co-founder of Holy Land Foundation and Rafil Dhafir, an American doctor born in Iraq who was sentenced in 2005 to 22 years in prison for violating sanctions against Iraq by sending money to a charity he had founded there, as well as for fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and a variety of other nonviolent crimes. He had no terrorism convictions or charges.

In the CMUs the “management” part consists of denying inmates virtually all communication with their families and the outside world. In its Terre Haute, Ind., facility, the BOP is concentrating Arab and Muslim inmates and limiting them to mailing one six-page letter per week, making one 15-minute phone call per month, and receiving only one 60-minute visit per month.

Prisoners in the two CMUs are not being punished because of any terrorist acts. “The vast majority of these folks are there due to entrapment or material support convictions,” says CCR attorney Rachel Meeropol, who has communicated with most of them.

Little information is available about the secretive facilities and the prisoners housed there. One secret unit came to light when supporters of an Iraqi-born American physician, Dr. Rafil Dhafir, made public a letter he had written describing his harrowing transfer to the new prison unit in Terre Haute. Dr. Dhafir called it “a nationwide operation to put Muslims/Arabs in one place so that we can be closely monitored regarding our communications.”

In a special report [12] – Gitmo in the Heartland – published by the Nation, Alia Malik quoted Dr. Dhafir’s letter as saying that at the time there were sixteen men in the CMU, fourteen of whom were Muslims and all but one of those were Arab. They had been told by prison officials that the unit was an experiment. Written material they received informed them that they would be entitled to one fifteen-minute call a week, that their communications had to be in English only and that their visits would all be non-contact.


It will not be too much to say that on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the American Muslims find themselves in a hostile environment similar to the era of immediately after 9/11. The fear is constantly whipped and hysteria is perpetuated by politicians and media.

Shockingly, ten years after 9/11, 80 percent of Jews, 59 percent of Catholics, 56 percent of Protestants and 56 percent of Mormons believe that American Muslims are not loyal to their country, according to Gallup (Middle East) poll released on August 2.

Fifty two percent of Muslim Americans say their community is singled out by government for terrorist surveillance, according to a PEW survey released on August 30 which also found that 43 percent said they had personally experienced harassment in the past year.

These two surveys reflect the dilemma of the seven-million American Muslim community. In the post-9/11 America they find themselves on the defensive and struggling to convince at times skeptical fellow citizens that they can be both Muslims and loyal U.S. citizens.

To borrow Stephen Lendman, post-9/11, in fact, Muslims are perceived as barbaric, violent, uncivilized, gun-toting terrorists, easily targeted, accused, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned – not for wrongdoing, but for their faith in America at the wrong time. As a result, it’s no surprise that when (Muslim) suspects are named, media reports automatically convict them in the court of public opinion. [13]

No matter that Islamic tenets teach love, not hate; peace, not violence; charity, not selfishness; tolerance, not terrorism; or that Islam, Christianity and Judaism have common roots. You’d never know it in today’s climate of hate and fear at a time America wages global wars on Islam, including at home. [14]

Despite all these odds American Muslims remain confident in the principles freedom, liberty and equality on which this great nation was founded. As reflected in the August 2011 Gallup Poll, ten years after the 9/11 attacks, an extensive survey of Muslims finds them as optimistic as other Americans. American Muslims’ perceptions of their own well-being increased more in the past three years than those of any other religious group, according to the Gallup report.

The community has responded to odd circumstances with political and social activism. It is now more proactive as it believes that the best way to protect its eroding civil rights is to become more active politically and socially. Muslims believe that they have to participate in the elections, more than any other time.

With anti-Muslim rhetoric reaching epic proportions in broader U.S. society — largely tolerated, rarely condemned – the American Muslim community remains sanguine that the current campaign will eventually subside since the religious freedom is a founding principle of this country and the main catalyst for its origins in the early seventeenth century. This principle was emphatically reiterated by President George Washington in his 1790 letter to the Jews of Rhode Island who built the Touro Synagogue:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship….The Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

When President Washington wrote this letter 220 years back, he must have been aware of the effect it would have on the fledgling nation.

Muslims join the nation in commemorating the 10th anniversary of this ghastly tragedy with an optimism that the state of present anti-Muslim campaign in the name of war on terrorism will recede in due course of time as happened during the Second World War with the Japanese Americans who also endured similar national intolerance, social prejudice and legal injustice.


[1] GOP Debate: Newt Gingrich’s Comparison of Muslims and Nazis Sparks Outrage –

ABC NEWS June 14, 2011]

[2] 2010 another hard year for American Muslims by Abdus Sattar Ghazali

[3] Islam-baiting doesn’t work – It failed in campaign 2010 and will do worse in 2012 by Stephan Salisbury

[4] Peter King’s hearings stoke Islamophobia – American Muslim Perspective, March 13, 2011

[5] The CAIR/UC Berkeley report on Islamophobia, titled “Same Hate, New Target” – June 24, 2011

[6] The Tennessean, October 24, 2010.

[7] New York Times – July 24, 2011

[8] Islamophobia – now in American children’s textbooks – American Muslim Perspective – April 12, 2010]

[9] The Right Wing playbook on anti-Muslim extremism by People For the American Way (PFAW) – July 25, 2011

[10] With CIA help, NYPD built secret effort to monitor mosques, daily life of Muslim neighborhoods by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman – Washington Post – August 24, 2011]

[11] How Easy Is It for Peaceful People to Violate the Patriot Act? By Joshua Holland

[12] Gitmo in the Heartland by Alia Malek – The Nation, March 10, 2011

[13] Vilifying Muslims in America by Stephen Lendman – Indybay – August 7th, 2011]

[14] Ibid.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: email: asghazali2011 (@)

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