Events of 9/11 Incite Hateful Behavior

By: Esha Bagora, Megan Hastings, and Aliya Koshalieva

How the Design of the World Trade Center Claimed Lives on 9/11 | HISTORY

Twenty-three years after one of the saddest days in American history, Muslim and South Asian Americans continue to feel its effects. On September 11, 2001, Americans around the country watched as Al-Qaeda pilots attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. 

Four days later, Balbir Singh Sodi’s death became one of the first hate crimes against someone perceived to be Muslim that resulted in a death. Less than a month later, President Bush launched a military mission in Afghanistan. President Bush tried to assuage concerns about Muslim-Americans by saying, “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends,” yet his administration began to round up thousands of Muslims suspected of terrorism for simply living in an apartment with other Muslims and created careless no-fly lists which included Muslim children under the age of five. 

The events of 9/11’s enforced systematic racism against the Muslim and South Asian community left a mark on the nation — the effects of which are still felt today. Many Americans continue to make jokes about it, which creates greater disparities for minority groups. Making light of a tragedy like 9/11 ridicules and mocks the deaths and injuries of thousands, while also perpetuating harmful stereotypes and feeding into the systemic racism surrounding the event. We need to stop making jokes about 9/11 and understand the consequences those jokes have on not only those affected by the loss of a loved one during 9/11, but also the Muslim and South Asian communities. 

In a report released by the FBI, the percentage of hate crimes against Muslims rose in the US by 1617% from 2000 to 2001. Sally Howell, the director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said, “In the post-9/11 period, there was a lot of fear about Muslims and terrorism in the United States and so we created all these new opportunities to surveil citizens and harass citizens and even entrap citizens in our desire to fight terrorism.” 

Today, Muslim hate-crimes may be lower than they were after 9/11, with only 67% of Muslims experiencing a hate crime, but the systematic racism enforced by the event still affects Muslim-Americans. Zahra Jamal, the director of Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, said in 2022 that “Sixty-two percent of Muslims report feeling religion-based hostility and 65 percent feel disrespected by others. That’s almost three times the percentage among Christians. Internalised Islamophobia is more prevalent among younger Muslims who have faced anti-Muslim tropes in popular culture, news, social media, political rhetoric, and in policy,” stemming from America’s view of the post-9/11 world and who was to blame.  

American ignorance hurt not only the Muslim-American community in the time following 9/11, but also the South Asian community. For example, in the months following 9/11, there was a surge in hate crimes targeting Sikh individuals. Perpetrators of these crimes often confused Sikhs with Muslims and mistakenly believed that they were connected to the terrorists responsible for the attacks.

Human Rights Watch noted that people who wear turbans or similar headwear, typically Sikhs, were assumed to be Muslim by self-described ‘American Patriots’. Because of this, Sikhs were verbally abused, physically assaulted, or had their property vandalized. In the first two weeks after the attack, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee counted 600 hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslims. 

Though the physical violence has diminished in the years following, the verbal hate continues. In 2016, just before the presidential election, then presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a complete Muslim immigration ban citing that he was “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” As anti-Muslim propaganda began to flood American media once again, hate crimes began to increase. Rana Singh Sodi, the brother of the first person killed in a hate crime after 9/11, told CNN News, “I don’t want to live scared, this is America. I should be able to live the way I want to live.” 

Los Gatos is not immune to these racist and hurtful remarks. A Muslim student at Los Gatos High School (LGHS) who wishes to remain anonymous mentioned, “I remember once in elementary school, it was 9/11, and one girl pointed out that I was Muslim. She made me apologize to everyone in the class for 9/11, when I wasn’t even alive then. Hearing countless jokes and mean words like that made me feel so ashamed of my own religion, and that’s not acceptable at all.” 

South Asian students at LGHS also feel personally victimized, with another anonymous classmate adding, “Random people ask me all the time if I’m ‘7/11’ or ‘9/11’ brown, and it’s really gross. One time in middle school, on 9/11, in history, we were learning about the firefighters and other people involved and someone turned around and asked if I knew where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. I was in kindergarten when he was killed.” 

Educate yourselves about the discrimination that followed 9/11 for many people of color. Do not continue the circle of hate and violence through nasty jokes that you deem funny, but only serve to make your Muslim and South Asian peers uncomfortable. We are American too. 

(Sources: ABC, Aljazeera, Cair, CNN, Human Rights Watch,  Montclair State University, Pew Research Center, Slate, 9/11 Memorial) 

Categories: Editorial, Web Exclusive

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