Posted by Rawan Elbaba on September 21, 2015 in Blog
“Terrorist! Go back to your country,” yelled a 17-year-old assailant at Inderjit Singh Mukker as he beat him repeatedly in his car. Today, the teenage attacker faces hate crime charges. Singh, who is Sikh, joins other South Asians, Arabs and Muslims who face regrettably common attacks based on their ethnicity or religion.
With the 14th anniversary of the September 11 attack, a collection of people took to Twitter, using the hashtag #AfterSeptember11, to share painful stories of prejudice, racism and discrimination in a post-9/11 era. More than 50,000 tweets were sent out by people sharing stories for being or appearing Muslim, Arab, or South Asian. While some referred to verbal attacks, like being called a “terrorist” or “Bin Laden,” others spoke of suffering more violent attacks. One person wrote, “#AfterSeptember11 I grew up without a mom because someone with a gun decided that she needed to answer for it with her life.” The online conversation highlights that hate crimes and discrimination are still very much a reality for everyday American Muslims, Arab Americans, and communities of color even 14 years after 9/11.
The hashtag was created by 19-year-old Loyola University student, Jessica Talwar, in an effort to share some of the heartbreaking impacts of 9/11 that went unnoticed. Although the hashtag received some backlash, Talwar argues that #AfterSeptember11 wasn’t created to undermine the events of September 11. Rather, it was created to highlight the harsh prejudice endured by many as a result of the attacks. Placing the blame for the attacks on a group of people who equally condemn them is simply unmerited.
In Mukker’s case, it’s obvious that the markers of religious identity like his beard and turban have become perverted into targets for hate. What were once articles of faith and culture have become reason for fear; men have shaved their beards and women have taken off their hijabs. One of the biggest problems that minority groups in the United States face is hate-based violence and unrelenting bigotry. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a substantial decrease in hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs in recent years. Anti-Muslim hate crimes actually remain five times higher today than they were before 9/11/2001. The murder of three Muslim students from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in February of this year is another example of a crime provoked by anti-Muslim sentiment.
More recently, there has been an effort among Republican Presidential candidates to argue against the claim that “radical Islam is a violation rather than an expression of Islam.” This shift in tone further develops a fear-mongering, “us versus them” reductive attitude towards all Muslims. With the constant use of words like “radical Islam,” politicians are reinforcing the idea that Islam and terrorism are related.
Mukker’s violent attack is just one example of why we must face the problem of hatred and bigotry in our country. We must ensure that anti-Muslim rhetoric and government programs and policies that tie Islam and violence together do not continue to create suspicion, prejudice and violence towards minority groups in the United States.
Rawan Elbaba is an intern with the Arab American Institute