Two decades after 9/11, American Muslims still fighting bias

Mistrust of Muslims didn’t start on 9/11, but it dramatically intensified with the attacks.

NEW YORK–As the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks approaches, Shahana Hanif still recalls her confusion over how anyone could look at her, a child, and see a threat.

She remembers when a car passed, the driver’s window rolled down and the man spat an epithet at two little girls wearing their hijabs: “Terrorist!”

It was 2001, mere weeks after the World Trade Centre fell, and ten-year-old Hanif and her younger sister were walking to the local mosque from their Brooklyn home.

“It’s not a nice, kind word. It means violence, it means dangerous. It is meant to shock whoever … is on the receiving end of it,” she says.

But the incident also spurred a determination to speak out for herself and others. She’s become a community organiser and is strongly favoured to win a seat on the New York City Council in an upcoming election.

Like Hanif, other young American Muslims have grown up under the shadow of 9/11. Many have faced hostility, suspicion, questions about their faith, doubts over their Americanness.

They have also found ways to fight back against bias, to organise, to craft nuanced personal narratives about their identities. In the process, they have built bridges and challenged stereotypes.

There is “this sense of being Muslim as a kind of important identity marker, regardless of your relationship with Islam as a faith,” says Eman Abdelhadi, a University of Chicago sociologist.

Mistrust of Muslims didn’t start on 9/11, but it dramatically intensified with the attacks.

America’s diverse Muslim communities were foisted into the spotlight, says Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University.

“Your sense of who you were was becoming more formed, not just Muslim but American Muslim,” he says. “What distinguished you as an American Muslim? Could you be fully both, or did you have to choose? There was a lot of grappling with what that meant.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ARAB WEEKLY

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