Joyce H. Sohn The events of September 11



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4756607 Joyce H. Sohn

The events of September 11th 2001 created dramatic changes in the lives of peoples all across the globe. The devastating aftermath of the attacks of that day is never ending in the lives of most people – especially those who were personally affected by the horrific acts of terrorism. Muslims, in particular, have had to experience the backlashes of the September 11th events. An already misunderstood and misrepresented group of people have, in addition, had to deal with incredible biases, bigotry, misdirected hate, and religious intolerance. Many Americans who, unjustly, attack the religion of Islam and its faithful followers are, in reality, very ignorant on the subject of Islam and the beliefs of the religion. Their ignorance, fear, and need to find blame after such a traumatic event blind them from their own false stereotypes and generalizations, and they justify their own prejudice. This paper will first describe misconceptions of Islam that existed prior to the September 11th attacks and will then go on to describe how those negative stereotypes, along with the need to find blame, have caused many Muslims-Americans to experience incredible bias and discrimination, solely based on their religious beliefs.

Americans, for many years, have misunderstood the nature and beliefs of Islam and the practices of its followers. The democratic values and ideals that are held sacred in the United States often skew the American peoples’ perceptions of foreign cultures and customs. In trying to understand the practices of Islam, Americans are often times unable to view Islamic traditions without being influenced by their own Western biases. Preconceived notions and stereotypes are continually reinforced by the media. An example of this are movies in which terrorists are portrayed as dark and belligerent Middle Eastern men.

There is also a great deal of conflict found in Americans’ misunderstanding and ignorance of issues regarding women’s rights and gender equality within the religion and practices of Islam. In the context of American society, the traditional wear of Muslim women is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. The hijab, which is used to veil the heads of Muslim women, rarely goes unnoticed in the eyes of most Americans. Non-Muslims frequently associate this piece of traditional Islamic attire with ideas of subordination and oppression, while disregarding the religious, cultural, and personal motivations that influence a woman’s decision to wear such an article of clothing. While many American women might view Islamic dress code as being confining and restrictive, many Muslim women feel that their clothing actually frees them from the negative attention that can stem from one’s physical attire and appearance. Wearing hijab liberates women from “the constricting mores governing appearance such as fashion trends and the societal expectations of how a woman should look.”1 The modest covering of the hair and body allows a woman to walk freely in public without being subjected to the suggestive glances and flirtations of men.

There are also cultural practices that are sometimes falsely identified as being a part of Islam. These customs are seen as products of the religion, as opposed to being the products of the cultural and social dynamics of a particular community. Female excision is one of the ancient customs falsely associated with the Islamic tradition. The procedure is one in which a young female is circumcised without the use of anesthetics. The medical consequences of such a practice are, more often than not, horrific and life threatening. Although there are laws prohibiting these types of procedures, female genital mutilations are practiced in more than twenty countries, including in the United States, where immigrants who come from other countries secretly continue this practice.2 Many people, including some individuals in the Muslim world, regard female genital mutilation as an Islamic practice, when it is not. The Qur’an does not touch upon this issue, and it finds no basis in either the Qur’an or the Sunnah. The Rector of the Muslim Institute at the Mosque in Paris, Sheikh Abbas, affirms this view by stating, “There is no existing religious Islamic text of value to be considered in favor of female excision.”3

Another example of American’s misrepresentation of Muslims is how the media in this country portrays Muslims. Muslim women are, often times, portrayed as victims of oppression. And while there are many Muslim women who are oppressed within communities in all parts of the world, there are also women of all different backgrounds, religions, and cultures who are subjected to gender inequalities, as well. Contrary to many Americans’ understandings and knowledge of Islam, many Muslim women firmly believe that Islam can ensure their rights; some also find that Muslim women have more rights than women from countries such as Canada or the United States.4 In an interview conducted by Shahnaz Khan, a Muslim women who emigrated to Canada felt that “Muslim women have more rights than…Canadian [women],” and she referred to the fact that Muslim women from her native country have the right to carry their own name after marriage, they were able to vote prior to suffrage in Canada and the United States, and they have the right to their own property.

Most examples of Americans’ cultural misunderstandings and misconceptions, like the ones mentioned above, are negative and do not accurately represent the Islamic religion. The attacks of September 11th only strengthened, what were already, negative attitudes towards and perceptions of Muslims. In addition to reinforcing false stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations, the events of September 11th and the attacks made by a select group of Islamic Fundamentalists catalyzed a hateful reaction towards Muslims throughout the world.

Immediately after the attacks, Americans all across the country voiced their distrust of Muslims – people who might be their neighbors, co-workers, peers, or complete strangers. Reverend Jerry Vines, a former Southern Baptist Convention President and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, voiced words full of hate and bigotry to vehemently attack Muslims at a pastors conference in June of 2002.5 Reverend Vines told the participants of the convention that the problems of the United States can be blamed on religious pluralism. He as quoted to have said, “Pluralists would have us believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity, but I’m here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity.”6 Vines went on to say, “Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had twelve wives – and his last one was a nine year old girl. And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”7 Reverend Vines said these words while giving a speech in front of several thousand delegates gathering for the convention in St. Louis.

This type of reaction to the attacks of September 11th is not uncommon or exceptional. According to the results of a poll released by a national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group in August of 2002 (nearly a year after the 9/11 attacks), fifty-seven percept of American Muslims said they had experienced bias or discrimination since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Eighty-seven percent of all respondents said they knew of a fellow Muslim who had experienced discrimination. This was a poll conducted by the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and it included the responses of 945 Muslim individuals. In addition to these statistics, forty-eight percent of respondents said their lives changed for the worse in the year following the attacks, the most frequent forms of bias came in the form of verbal abuse, religious or ethnic profiling, and workplace discrimination, and sixty-seven percent of respondents felt the media had grown more biased against Islam and Muslims (Fox News being the media outlet that they felt most exhibited biased coverage).8

Although many Americans blame the attacks of September 11th on the Islamic religion and the customs and practices of Muslims, many American Muslims leaders have been very outspoken about their condemnation of terrorism. An article released by the U.S. Department of State several days after September 11th 2001 noted that American Muslim leaders, who represented a diverse spectrum of Muslim organizations in the United States, said at a September 18th press conference that they “would like to make it absolutely clear that [Muslims] join all other Americans in our unequivocal condemnation of the attacks as un-Islamic, barbaric, and inhumane.”9 Shaker Elsayed, the Secretary General of the Muslim Society, spoke at the Nation Press Club and said that the Muslim-American community was also mourning the lives lost in the World Trade Center attacks. Terrorists, he said, “cannot be condone or justified under any circumstances.”10

In addition to these words that condemn terrorism, many Muslim leaders also spoke out in support of the Bush administration’s Anti-Terrorism Campaign. In an October press release, the American Muslim Council (AMC) stated its support for the United States’ government’s action against world terrorism and the council reaffirmed its condemnation of the September 11th attacks, as well.11 The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also submitted a statement which read that the organization supports “the president’s strategic campaign to combat terrorism and to protect American citizens from attack. This support will remain firm whether or not we agree with particular tactics used to carry out that campaign. American Muslims have stated clearly that the horrific attacks of September 11th warrant an appropriate response aimed at the perpetrators.”12 Those Americans who place the blame of the September 11th attacks on Muslim-Americans should be mindful of the fact that many of the American Muslims’ stance on the attacks are comparable to those of Non-Muslim-Americans, as well.

Americans who are not knowledgeable on the practices and beliefs of Islam should educate themselves on the religion and use the events of September 11th as an opportunity of learning and of greater understanding. Although many Muslims have experienced religious bias and discrimination after, and due to, the September 11th attacks, there has also been a show of support for the Muslim community as well, which cannot be ignored. Muslims currently attending universities, in particular, have found support from their respective campuses. In another release from the U.S. Department of State, a Saudi graduate student at George Mason University said, “I found every form of support from the university, from the professors, from the instructors, and from my colleagues, the students themselves.”13 This particular student described how the dean of his school addressed the international students and encouraged them to remain and continue their studies at the university, despite the negative reactions of many Americans toward the Middle Eastern community. Though he feared reprisal attacks on Muslims after September 11th, the student stayed at the university, continued his studies, and owed this to the university’s support of the Muslim community. The effects of September 11th are ongoing and will remain in the hearts of most Americans, but the fear caused by such an event should not be used to fuel hatred towards a group of people who equally deserve to be called Americans. If this country is to truly recover from such a devastating attack, we must, first and foremost, united and not allow the events of September 11th to spread hate among the citizens of this country.

Bibliography



  1. Hasan, Asma Gull; American Muslims: The New Generation; Continuum, New York: 2000.

  2. Khan, Shahnaz; Muslim Women: Crafting a North American Identity; University Press of Florida, Gainesville: 2000.

  3. Jawad, Haifaa A.; The Rights of Women in Islam; St. Martin’s Press, Inc., New York: 1998.

  4. Nyang, Sulayman S.; Islam in the United States of America; KAZI Publications, Inc., Chicago:1999.

  5. Laura Brown, “Muslim Students Find Support on U.S. Campuses after 9/11,” http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/02030810.htm, March 5, 2002.

  6. “Southern Baptist Leadership Chose to Spew Hate,” http://www.islam101.com/terror/sbaptists.htm, June 24, 2002.

  7. Vicki Silverman, “Muslim Americans Support Anti-Terrorism Campaign,” http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01101003.htm, October 8, 2001.

  8. Susan Domowitz, “American Muslim Leaders Condemn Terrorism, Defend Muslims’ Civil Rights,” http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01091907.htm, September 18, 2001.

  9. “Poll: Majority of U.S. Muslims Suffered Post-9/11 Bias,” http://www.interfaitheducationinitiative.org/images/content/CAIROnBiasAndKindness.pdf, August 21, 2002.

  10. “CAIR Report: American Muslims One Year after 9/11,” http://www.islam101.com/terror/cairReport911.htm, September 2, 2002.

1 Asma Gull Hasan, “American Muslims: The New Generation,” 38.

2 Haifaa A. Jawad, “The Rights of Women in Islam,” 58.

3 Haifaa A. Jawad, “The Rights of Women in Islam,” 58.

4 Shahnaz Khan, “Muslim Women: Crafting a North American Identity,” 108.

5 http://www.islam101.com/terror/sbaptists.htm, “Southern Baptist Leadership Chose to Spew Hate.”

6 http://www.islam101.com/terrorr/sbaptists.htm, “Southern Baptist Leadership.”

7 http://www.islam101.com/terror/sbaptists.htm, “Southern Baptist Leadership.”

8 http://www.interfaitheducationinitiative.org/images/content/CAIROnBiasAndKindness.pdf, “Poll: Majority of U.S. Muslims Suffered Post-9/11 Bias.”

9 http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01091907.htm, “American Muslim Leaders Condemn Terrorism, Defend Muslims’ Civil Rights.”

10 http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01091907.htm,” American Muslim Leaders Condemn Terrorism, Defend Muslims’ Civil Rights.”

11 http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01101003.htm, “Muslim Americans Support Anti-Terrorism Campaign.”

12 http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/po/terror/01101003.htm,” Muslim Americans Support Anti-Terrorism Campaign.”

13 http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/02030810.htm, “Muslim Students Find Support on U.S. Campuses after 9/11.”

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