Why ‘American Muslims Are in a Painful, Familiar Place’

As incidents of harassment, intimidation and assault targeting both Muslim and Jewish Americans persists in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, many Muslims have been left feeling on edge, as they are reminded of the mistreatment their community endured in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes skyrocketed in the first few months after the 9/11 attacks—rising from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2002, according to FBI statistics published by Human Rights Watch. This time around, the Council on American Islamic Relations, a nationwide Muslim advocacy group and watchdog, says it received 774 complaints between October 7-24—an average of 45 incidents a day, or roughly three times the number of incidents recorded in an average 16-day period in 2022.

Following 9/11, the U.S. government mobilized its entire national security and law enforcement machinery to thwart any potential terrorist attacks on American soil. “And it bore down on one particular group: Muslims in America,” wrote Rozina Ali, a war correspondent who reports about Islamophobia and the Middle East, in an October 31 oped in the New York Times.

Titled “American Muslims Are in a Painful, Familiar Place,” the article emphasized that it was the government’s emphasis on potentially threatening Muslims that bled into the U.S. media and society, solidifying a pattern of anti-Muslim hate crimes that has not  reverted to levels seen prior to the events of 9/11.

In the week following October 7, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee received sporadic reports of FBI visits to mosques, and a 16-year-old girl wearing a hijab was allegedly assaulted in New York City.

“The Oct. 7 attacks didn’t happen on American soil, but this is an intimate war for many Americans,” wrote Ali in the Times oped, adding that on October 13—the first Friday after the Hamas attack, and the holiest day of the week for Muslims—the U.S. appeared to be on high alert.

The evident reason, she pointed out, was that two days earlier a former Hamas leader in Qatar had urged people in Arab nations to protest in support of the Palestinians—a call that was quickly mischaracterized online and by far-right groups in the U.S. as a “global day of jihad.” 

That Friday, Ali visited the Islamic Center at New York University, “expecting a tense and nervous congregation,” as she put it. Instead, she found that women around her were queuing up to pray. “As we knelt together, all I could hear was sobs,” Ali wrote, concluding: “We’ve been here before, but we don’t have to be here again.”

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