Seven years after 9/11, Muslims in America remained at the receiving end with assault on their civil rights and their faith in the name of “war on terror.” Muslims are the prime targets of the post 9/11 reconfiguration of American laws, policies, and priorities. Defending civil rights remains the single most important challenge before the seven million-strong American Muslim community as the consequences of the 9/11 tragic terrorist attacks continue to unfold seven years after the ghastly tragedy. The government initiatives have reshaped public attitudes about racial profiling and created a harsh backlash against the Muslim community. At the same time Muslims and Islam remain a popular past time for the US media and some prominent religious and political leaders who never miss any opportunity to attack Muslims and their faith in the name of extremism. Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 America, Islamophobia is not only more widespread but more mainstream and respectable.
Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson’s article titled “Holding Muslims at Arm’s Length” best reflect how fear mongering and Islamophobia is being used in the 2008 presidential election. He points out that in his year-and-a-half-long run for president, Obama has visited churches and synagogues, but no mosque. Jackson answers to Obama’s meaningful reluctance to visit a mosque when he quotes a Newsweek poll of May which concludes that only 58 percent of Americans think Obama is a Christian.
Tellingly, in July, The New Yorker magazine publishes a cover cartoon depicting Barak Obama, wearing traditional Muslim dress, while his wife, Michelle, is dressed in combat trousers and carrying a machine-gun. This cover legitimizes the rumors regarding Obama. It is not a satire but promotes fear, stereotypes and racism.
American Muslim community was dismayed at the Islamophobic rhetoric at the Republican Party Convention that ended in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 4, 2008. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in their speeches made bigoted remarks that equated Islam with terrorism.
"For four days in Denver, the Democrats were afraid to use the words 'Islamic terrorism,'" Guiliani said. "I imagine they believe it is politically incorrect to say it. I think they believe it will insult someone. Please, tell me, who are they insulting, if they say 'Islamic terrorism?' They are insulting terrorists."
"Is a Supreme Court liberal or conservative that awards Guantanamo terrorists with constitution rights?" Romney said. "John McCain hit the nail on the head: radical violent Islam is evil, and he will defeat it!"
The Republican Party leaders’ Islamophobic remarks are not surprising since Sen. McCain and his supporters have in the past used rhetoric that only serves to marginalize Muslims. In his speeches, McCain often refers to “radical Islam,” “Islamic terrorism" or “Islamic extremism," rhetoric that has been questioned by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security.
Islamophobic comments in the election campaign are damaging to the Muslim American community. They are symptomatic of a culture that continues to treat Muslims as suspects and not as equal citizens in this country.
Thanks to rising Islamophobia, a Pew poll finds forty-five percent of those polled saying Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its believers. The survey also found that public attitudes toward Muslims have grown more negative in recent years, with 35% of respondents expressing an unfavorable view.
It will not be too much to say that anti-Islam and anti-Muslim feelings were fueled by such government programs as a mock attack on a fake mosque in Illinois. In May last, over 120 officials from almost 30 government agencies participated in the drill in Irving, Illinois, targeting a community facility that had been re-named the "Irving Mosque" for the purposes of the exercise. In the exercise, officers from the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) stormed the "mosque" using an armored car. One "hostage" was hooked up to an explosive device and the "suspects" in the "mosque" released nerve gas.
What message that exercise conveys to the American masses who are already conditioned by the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric by some radio hosts, electronic and print media as well as some political and Christian Right leaders in the post-9/11 America? Surely, it reinforces the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim image among the masses. Tellingly, a March 2008 Gallup survey, finds that a substantial number of Americans have a negative perception of Muslims. The poll shows that only 17 percent have positive perception while 23 have negative. 48 percents were found neutral which are surely not positive.
Profiling has been institutionalized in the post-9/11 America. State and federal agencies, under the guise of fighting terrorism, have expanded the use of this degrading, discriminatory and dangerous practice.
American Muslim community was alarmed by the proposed Justice Department policy change that would allow the FBI to investigate Americans without evidence of wrongdoing, relying instead on a terrorist profile that could single out Muslims and Arabs. Under the new guidelines, which are expected to be implemented later this year, the FBI would be permitted to consider race and ethnicity when opening an investigation, according to an Associated Press report.
Agents would also be allowed to ask open-ended questions about the activities of American Muslims and Arab-Americans, and could initiate an investigation if a person's employment or background is labeled as "suspect" by government analysts looking at public records and other information.
The Justice Department profiling proposals followed a November 2007 Los Angeles Police Department program to “Map” (read profile) Muslim communities in southern California. There are estimated 500,000 Muslims living in the greater Los Angeles area, including Orange and Riverside Counties, which make its concentration of Muslims the second largest in the United States, after New York City. The profiling plan was abandoned after an uproar by Muslim and civil rights groups.