Trigger Warning: In this post I discuss terrorism and 9/11, though without any disturbing details.
NOTE: Like many white Americans, I am sadly under-informed about Islam. I apologize in advance if I use any terms incorrectly in my attempt to express my views, and I will make any corrections that are brought to my attention. Thank you.
We Americans like to say that the al-Qaeda terrorists behind 9/11 lost; that American courage and determination rose up in the face of their terrorism. It is true that there were countless heroes of 9/11, those who responded to horror with extraordinary acts of courage and grace. I honor their stories, as well as the stories of those many heroes whose acts of courage, the courage of facing each new day without their beloved, go untold.
That said, 9/11 planted a seed of fear so deep and profound that it continues to grow and spread.
I Don't Wanna Talk About It, Indigo Girls
In America we continue to accept an ever-increasing police state: airport security only becomes more restrictive; our police forces are becoming militarized; and Big Brother videotapes our movements from ever more street corners.
There is another legacy of 9/11: a national contract of bigotry and hatred towards a group of people: Muslims, those we believe to be Muslim, and anyone who “looks” Middle Eastern. We hold on doggedly to our right to judge, fear, and hate every member of this group. When challenged, we quickly turn to arguments that we know don’t hold up. We use nonsensical logic that we would reject in any other situation, or for any other group. And the judgments we so fiercely defend are that “those people” do not value human life, hate Americans, want to kill all non-Muslims, are taught to hate and kill, and are militants and terrorists.
No matter that there are some 2.75 million Muslim Americans. And no matter that there are 1.6 billion Muslims around the globe, or nearly 1/4 of the world’s population. Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. Do you think America would still be America if all these Muslims wanted us gone?
“Muslims around the world strongly reject violence in the name of Islam.” 1
The Pew Research Center interviewed Muslims in 39 countries, who spoke over 80 languages. While the Muslims they interviewed say that belief in God is essential for leading a moral life, they have widely divergent views on what constitutes morality on issues including family planning, divorce, and women’s rights. Overall, Muslims support democracy. 1
My point is not that Islam is a more progressive religion than we thought, but that its believers are far more varied than any generalization can encompass.
While there are many branches of Islam, Sunni and Shia being the two primary ones, a large number of Muslims do not identify with any particular sect. Large percentages of Muslims around the world believe that Islam is open to more than one interpretation – not the fundamentalist interpretation of radicals. 2
Our erroneous attempt to paint all Muslims as radicals is both ignorant and dangerous. Every time we do this, deliberately or carelessly, we validate the increased discrimination and violence that has been experienced since 9/11 by Muslims and those who look Middle Eastern.
“In a post Sept. 11th world, the phenomena of Islamophobia or distrust toward Muslims and Islam has grown exponentially. Sadly, perceptions of Muslims as terrorists or potential terrorists are not uncommon, and public opinion polls have confirmed that negative perceptions of Islam and Muslims are also on the rise. In 2006, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that nearly 40 percent of Americans admit to harboring feelings of prejudice against Muslims.” 3
The words we use have never been more important. We can discuss religious doctrine, freedom of speech, or acts of terror in ways that perpetuate racism, or in ways that do not.
It hurts my heart to hear so much justification for bigotry and racism. It hurts my heart that one of the legacies of 9/11 is that we have become more racist, that as a nation we have hardened our hearts against an enormous group of varied people, and closed our minds to logic and reason.
Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet.
– Maya Angelou