The Terror Faced by Arabs and Muslims in the Aftermath of 9/11
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Overseas, the Taliban were effectively ousted in three months, though Osama bin Laden eluded capture, and by the end of 2001, there were only 2,500 U.S. service members on the ground in Afghanistan. Then, in January 2002, the world’s attention spun around the globe to Cuba, as news began to emerge that the United States was detaining alleged Taliban fighters at Guantanamo Bay.
Both these domestic policies and events around the world meant Americans were ever more aware of Arabs and especially Muslims and Islam. But this newfound visibility after September 11 meant not only scrutiny and suspicion on behalf of Americans toward Arabs and Muslims, but also newfound interest in and curiosity about things Middle Eastern. Thus Arab- and Muslim-American communities saw an opportunity to share their experiences and perspectives -- which had often been excluded -- on the culture, politics, history, and religion of the Arab and Muslim worlds. In many cases, community activists and advocates had been trying for years to elicit such interest from institutions that had closed their doors to Arabs in the past, and ironically, because of the al-Qaeda attacks, they finally found receptive audiences. Following an initial shrinking away after the attacks -- many Arab- or Muslim-themed events, concerts, and lectures were canceled -- groups refound their footing and organized or participated in a variety of, for example, campus teach-ins, public education efforts, and film and literary festivals. At the same time, Arab or Muslim characters were included in pop culture mediums, from the sophisticated -- like Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam -- to the more common -- like the family drama 7th Heaven.
Arab Americans also became visible and vocal contingents in progressive movements, such as those focusing on civil rights and liberties. And of course, in the antiwar movement, which began to gain vigor as the United States set its sights on its next global target in the war on terrorism -- Iraq. In February 2003, with nearly 10,000 troops already in Afghanistan, 90,000 U.S. troops were deployed to the Persian Gulf, and on March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq.
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Alia Malek has written for Salon, The Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times. She is currently editing the next volume in the Voice of Witness series, a collection of first person oral histories from communities impacted by post 9/11 backlash. Her website is http://aliamalek.com.