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Politics & Policy
Muslims in America facing new threats

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Politics & Policy

The backlash of the terror attacks in the US on September 11.

By Syed M. Aslam
Oct 01 - 07, 2001

US population comprise of a sizeable portion of Muslims, both the immigrants as well as the converts, the majority of which is Afro Americans. As a religious group, they collectively make up a rare mosaic which surpasses all barriers of colour, race and the geographical areas they, their parents or forefathers migrated from. They include those who immigrated to the US in recent years, those who are first generation citizens and also those, particularly Arabs, who are third and fourth generation Americans. According to an estimate there are some 6 million Muslims in the US and Canada.

It is this sizeable portion of the US population, its very citizens themselves, which was made to bear the brunt of the backlash of the terror attacks in the US on September 11. Muslims across the US, and for that matter wherever they formed a visible majority across the developed world, were booed, jeered, reviled, harassed, threatened, attacked and even murdered in what the press called 'hate crimes.'

The Muslim-specific anger resulted in senseless killings of number of Muslims as well as members of other minority groups, particularly Sikhs, due to an apparent identity mix-up. A Pakistani doctor who migrated to the US just over six months ago was gunned down in cold blood at the store he bought in Houston, Texas. A Sikh who owned a petrol pump was killed in Phoenix, Arizona. Similar cases were reported from other parts of the US, including New York.

A fire bomb attack damaged a mosque in Denton, Texas, the home state of the US president. A Sikh temple in suburb in Cleveland was attacked by petrol bombs. Schools in the state of Louisiana were closed after officials reported that students of Middle Eastern origin were being taunted and harassed. A market in Long Island owned by a Pakistani was the target of an arson attack. A man was arrested in Ronkonkoma for waving a pellet gun and shouting obscenities at a South Asian gas attendant. In south Huntington, police arrested a man who tried to run down a Pakistani woman. More than 100 people held a march near a mosque in Bridgeview, near Chicago.

For days after the horrific attacks which shook the world, Muslims associations and groups in the US reportedly received a flurry of threatening phone calls. Schools run and managed by Muslims self-help groups were forced to remain closed for days while Muslim students in public schools had to bear the boos, jeers and threats of their fellow students. Many Muslims, both males and females, children and elders, were abused and even physically attacked on the streets. Others felt it safe to stay home to avoid similarly angry, and at times physically violent, backlash.

New York Times reported that one of its sub-editor, a devout Catholic, was jumped on by five police officers as he walked out of his office wearing a knit cap which Muslims wear. Obviously, he was singled out primarily due to the cap and the colour of his skin, the newspaper said. On September 15, Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani and a Sikh, Balbir Singh were became victims of 'hate crimes' in New York.'

Within days, anti-Muslim reaction spread to other parts of the developed world with more or less similar ugly incidents and almost a same reaction from the Muslims, both individually and collectively. Muslim places of worships were attacked in many cities in the developed world, one was burnt down in Brisbane, Australia. Britain's first state-funded Islamic school founded by Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer Cat Stevens, was forced to close temporarily after the attacks in the US 'to ensure the safety of pupils and staff.'

Muslim places of worship were defaced and petrol bombs were hurled at mosques while Muslim girls wearing veils were harassed in public schools and streets across Australia. The Australian Arab Council said they received reports women wearing veils have been abused and spat upon. Angry protestors gathered outside the mosques to shout abuses at Muslims.

Remarks made by US President George W. Bush such as terming the attacks as a new crusade and 'beginning of a clash of civilisations' and wanting the alleged mastermind Osama Bin Laden 'dead or alive' did not make an already volatile situation any better. The anti-Muslim backlash has caused a great sense of concern for the families of hundreds of thousands of Pakistani Americans. The Pakistan Telecommunication Company reported a record increase in the calls to the US after that fateful day of September 11. It is easy to understand the immense increase in voice, and to an extent data traffic, to the US primarily dominated by a desire to enquire the well being of a family member in the prevalent situation.

Pakistani Foreign Office issued a list of 53 Pakistanis who are either missing or injured in Washington and New York. The fact, however, has done little to lessen the sense of fear under which the Muslims in the West are forced to live. Many of those who were able to make an initial telephonic contact with their relatives in the US have yet to receive another contact and the anti-Muslim sentiments in the US keep them worrying about the security of their loved ones despite assurances that everything is ok. Many others, particularly relatives of those announced missing in New York and Washington, are bracing themselves for bad news. There is only one question on their mind, when this environment of blind anger and hate would subside?