Featured and quoted in this article with The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON — Simran Jeet Singh was in high school at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He remembers that Sikh and Muslim friends who lived in New York, Boston and elsewhere in the U.S. soon started receiving threats as though they were the enemy.
In 2001, at least 500 anti-Muslim hate crimes were recorded by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. In the years since, the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes has remained roughly five times higher than before the Twin Towers fell.
“The problem is that, in America, we don’t believe in considering an entire group guilty on the basis of an individual’s actions, but that’s essentially what’s happened … and it hasn’t really stopped,” Singh, now a professor at Trinity University, told The Huffington Post. “It’s become part of the shared experience for, essentially, anybody in this country with brown skin.”
On Friday, the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, people used the hashtag#AfterSeptember11 to highlight the difficulties of growing up Arab, Muslim or Sikh in the U.S.
One Reddit user’s parents changed his name from Osama after the attacks because of the political and social fallout. He was 6.
“It’s tough as a person of color regardless in America. And one of things that happens is that we tend to silo or isolate our experiences based on … the [different] communities to which we belong,” Singh said. “But there is a collective struggle that comes from the institutionalized racism — and this is not a new phenomenon here in America.”
Since 9/11, Muslims in America have faced a slew of racist and Islamophobicattacks, including a terrorism plot led by a reputed Klansman. They’ve been falsely accused of creating “no-go zones.” And many of their fellow Americans keep speaking and acting as of only Islamic extremists commit terror attacks, even though that’s clearly not true.
A study released by the New America Foundation in June showed that at least 48 people have been killed in the U.S. by right-wing extremists since the Sept. 11 attacks, almost double the number killed by self-identified jihadists in the period. Most of these attacks were carried out by radical anti-government groups or white supremacists.
But hard facts seem to have less influence on the popular imagination than a dozen years of U.S. warfare in and against various majority-Muslim countries.
“Combine that with a 24-hour news cycle that privileges simple narratives over nuance, and with policymakers who have too often shown a lack of knowledge about the history, politics, and cultures of the places where the US wages war and sees threats — and you’re looking at some entrenched, perpetually reinforced stereotypes about Muslims, Islam and terrorism,” Timothy McGrath wrote for theGlobalPost.
Since 9/11, McGrath pointed out, the primary targets of domestic counterterrorism efforts have been Muslims. Recall the New York Police Department’s partnership with the FBI and the CIA to create a secret unit that monitored and infiltrated mosques, spied on Muslim students, and collected data on the city’s Muslim population.
“There is a very specific racial coding that lies underneath what we define as terrorism,” Singh said. “So a terrorist is perceived to be somebody who is brown, who is foreign. But when it’s coming from within our own nation — when it’s someone who’s white, we tend to call it something else.”
In the aftermath of horrible crimes, white assailants are more likely to be dubbed “lone wolves” or perceived as the victims of mental illness. “We don’t grant that same perspective when we’re talking [about] people who have different skin colors,” Singh said.
Balbir Singh Sodhi, who wore a beard and a turban in accordance with his Sikh faith, was mistaken for an Arab Muslim and murdered on Sept. 15, 2001. The killer, Frank Roque, ranted that he was a “patriot” and “stood for America all the way.” But his attorneys argued that he suffered from mental illness and had a low IQ.