Sept. 11, 2001: Eleven years later, American Muslims are victims

AP Flags set on display by students at Norwich University in Northfield Vt. are seen on the upper parade ground … Continued


Flags set on display by students at Norwich University in Northfield Vt. are seen on the upper parade ground to commemorate the victims of Sept. 11, on Sept. 10, 2012.

The anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is always a time for solemn pause. Memorializing that tragic day by reflecting on the lives lost and others changed forever is appropriate and necessary and respectful.

This year, though, the country’s remembrance comes at a time of great discord and mistrust between many Americans and their Muslim neighbors. In recent weeks, attacks on members of the Islamic faith — including mosque arsons, assaults, Congressional witch hunts, and anti-Sharia convulsions — have signaled the recurrence of a metastasizing social cancer that is eating away the pluralistic fabric of America.

Out of our collective national heartbreak, a sustained climate of hate has burgeoned and that is the wrong response to the losses suffered.

While it is normal to still feel the pain inflicted by the merciless and misguided terrorists that, more than a decade ago, carried out their unthinkable deed, the wounds of that time have not healed. They have worsened. Instead of emerging from the darkness as a nation just as united in its determination to combat terrorism as in its commitment to unify a hurting population, the passing years have only witnessed more fracture as suspicion, anger and prejudice directed at American Muslims has grown and manifested itself in ugly and un-American ways.

Last year, in one of the most recent studies to date, the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that nearly half of all Americans believe that the values of Islam are incompatible with American values. The same percentage also reported that they would be uncomfortable with a mosque being built in their neighborhood and forty-one percent admitted they would be uncomfortable if a teacher at the elementary school in their community were Muslim.

Growing anti-Muslim sentiment has real consequences. In 2010, the FBI reported a 50 percent spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes, the last year for which data of that type is available. This year has undoubtedly witnessed a bump as well. During Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting for Muslims, eight attacks on mosques were carried out in a period of just eleven days. One cemetery was destroyed, a homemade bomb was detonated, and pig parts — an animal considered by Muslims to be unclean — were strewn about their houses of worship. Instead of celebrating their religious holiday in peace, a cloud of panic and fear hovered above their festivities.

Americans are better than that. The problem is that we’ve been listening to the wrong voices for too long — voices that agitate and exacerbate anxieties and prey on heightened emotions brought about by national tragedies. An overabundance of pseudo-scholars, professed terrorism experts, and ideologically driven activists and religious leaders have long monopolized the national discourse about Islam and turned Muslim-bashing into a lucrative cottage industry.

American blogger Robert Spencer, who the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a hate group leader, is among the most prominent voices opposing an improved relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. His popular website presents an off balanced view of Islam, offering dozens of sensational and violent headlines about violence carried out by Muslims each day. His books regularly appear atop bestseller lists and until just recently were used by the FBI and other law enforcement institutions to train new recruits.

Spencer’s colleague, Pamela Geller, is also a rising star in the Islamophobia industry. In 2010, she single-handedly ignited a firestorm over the Park 51 Islamic Community Center by injecting the “Ground Zero Mosque” meme into an otherwise balanced conversation. In addition to waging a culture war against such cartoonish threats as “stealth jihad,” “creeping Sharia,” and “high-school prom jihad,” her latest metropolitan bus advertisements in New York and San Francisco equate the Palestinian cause with holy war.

Geller and Spencer’s legal counsel, Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan official who heads the Center for Security Policy, was behind Michele Bachman’s recent accusations that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating Congress. Gaffney once served as an advisor to Bachman and regularly travels the country proclaiming, with the same loose evidence used by the Minnesota Congresswoman, that Islamic law will soon usurp the Constitution.

This fear mongering has even gone global. The writings of Spencer, Geller, and Gaffney appeared in the manifesto of the Norwegian killer, Anders Breivik, who digested their ominous warnings of Muslim violence and concluded that the only logical response was the slaughter of 77 people he blamed for the supposed Islamic takeover of Europe.

And this week, as Americans remember the anniversary of Sept., 11, Spencer and Geller will host an international conference in New York aimed at stopping the “Islamization of nations.”

To reach our true potential as a nation, we must recognize the power of our multiculturalism. The voices of intolerance that wish to divide us along religious lines must be drowned out by overwhelming calls for pluralism and co-existence. Marginalizing Muslims is not the answer. They are an integral and beautiful part of our country’s character just as they are an important part of the solution to the challenges that face this great land.

Nathan Lean is the editor-in-chief of and the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims, which will be released Sept. 18, 2012 by Pluto Press.

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  • jeanc2006

    This article needs to be moved to the front page of the WaP. This subject deserves the attention and input of all the citizens of this country. These dangerous ideologies need to be exposed for the fallacious assertions they espouse. The hatred inherent in these attacks on Islam, are rooted in ignorance and self-delusion.
    Until a widespread effort to bring this hate speak into the light of day, showing how ridiculous they are, this ignorance will spread not contract.
    John McMain standing on the floor of the Senate defending Huma Amedin against Bachman’s accusations is a beginning. Each of our elected officials needs to follow suit to show our collective support for Muslims specifically, and minorities in general.
    Our countries strength comes from diversity, and needs to be fostered, rather than thwarted.

  • aby

    The author wishes to convey the idea that Islam is just another religion and thus its adherants living in the West are loyal peace loving citizens. No doubt many Muslims are, but Islam is a primtive political ideology masquerading as a religion. Its tenents are counter to almost all the values that the modern World values. It is an intolerant, supremacist evangelizing ideology that claims to have been dictated word for word by the Creator of the Universe, and thus could not be questioned or even adapted to other times or places other than the place and time it was “revealed” ; 7th Century Arabia.

  • BookofDaniel

    Excellent article by Mr. Lean! Thank you! As a priest, I would offer another thought we could lay alongside this. While few of us have actually ever read the Koran, we might do better to look at the Bible before we do.

    Such language of violence against the “other” permeates much of the Psalms (the hymn book of the early church) and is part of Judeo-Christian history too. Christians look at that and say, “Well, it is a record of a people’s journey with God as they understood God in their own time. Times were violent then. Since then, we have come to understand more about the nature of God.” If we talk to regular everyday Muslims in our communities, you will hear much the same language. It is when we listen only to the extreme voices of any religion that our vision of it’s followers becomes completely distorted. Of course, demonizing those perceived as “other” is still a sad pastime in which many who call themselves Christian engage — we all fall into this at times.

    While Christians disagree about many fine points of doctrine, few would dispute two main principles that should guide us: We look to our own failings first (the beam in our own eye), and we love our neighbor as ourselves. This includes our Muslim brothers and sisters — I’m unaware of any exceptions Jesus made to this.

  • FactFinder

    May be you should learn these facts about Islam. Look at what’s going on in Pakistan and Iran every day. Here you can say that Muslims are peaceful. But, wait until they gain some numbers. Here Muslims engage in Taqqia, which is ordained to muslims.
    It means that lying to non-muslims is a muslim’s duty if it helps advance the cause of islam. There are several koran and hadith verses mentioning it: Qur’an 16:106, 3:28, 2:225.

    Here’s more:

    “We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them. (Tafsir).

    “When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory. It is religiously precautionary in all cases to employ words that give a misleading impression. (Reliance of the Traveler)

    Al-Tabari’s famous tafsir (exegesis of the Koran) is a standard and authoritative reference work in the entire Muslim world. It says:

    “If you [Muslims] are under their [infidels’] authority, fearing for yourselves, behave loyally to them, with your tongue, while harboring inner animosity for them. Allah has forbidden believers from being friendly or on intimate terms with the infidels- except when infidels are above them [in authority]. In such a scenario, let them act friendly towards them.”

    The “Reliance of the Traveller” (Umdat as-Salik wa Uddat an-Nasik),THE classical manual on sharia law, is based on the koran and the hadiths. Here is what is says about us lowlife infidel Christians/Jews/Hindus/Atheists/Buddhists:

    o1.2 The following are NOT subject to retaliation:

    (2) a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim;

    (4) a father or mother (or their fathers of mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring;

    o5.4 There is no expiation for killing someone who has left Islam or a convicted married adulterer

    o8.1 When a person apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.

    o11.5 Non-Muslim subjects are obliged to comply with Islamic rules. In addition,

  • Kingofkings1

    Although I cannot say WAPO is completely balanced from my reading over past few years, kudos to WAPO for trying to bring some balance in this discourse regarding the 9/11 tragedy. And what better way to do that than on 9/11?

    Second, while the hatemongers have been free to do as they wish over the past few years – taking advantage of scapegoating and fear-mongering, which has become an industry in itself, with minimal qualifications of hatemongers wh have turned into experts, including Spencer, Geller, Dershowitz, and Pipes, this is the first time their dangerousness has been noticed in a mainstream publication, that I am aware of.

    Finally, if the constitution remains the beacon of freedom as it has been, and not only on paper, but in practice, as the author encourages, the terrorists of 9/11 have lost. The alternative is short-term pleasure with collective punishment of the American and international muslim community, while the ideals of the American experiment have been destroyed in the process, and the 9/11 terrorists would have their belated victory

  • Rongoklunk

    I guess this is as good a time as any – to ask people whether they believe that the 9/11 terrorists are up there in Paradise enjoying the afterlife, with Allah and lots of celestial virgins to keep them company?
    I mean that the terrorists believed 100 percent that they would survive death and live forever. Otherwise they wouldn’t have done it – would they? They didn’t want to die, and were obviously convinced that they wouldn’t die. So do Muslims envy these guys – or do they feel that they got it wrong, and are just plain dead.
    In my own mind they are just dead. They were made to believe nonsense and gave up their lives for a lie. Do religious folks – especially Muslims – believe otherwise? Or do they think that they are still ‘up there’ in Heaven with Allah?
    I’d like to know.

  • ThomasBaum

    Nathan Lean

    You wrote, “His, Robert Spencer, popular website presents an off balanced view of Islam, offering dozens of sensational and violent headlines about violence carried out by Muslims each day.”

    I’ve never seen this person’s website but would it be better if it gave an on balanced view of islam when it offers “dozens of sensational and violent headlines about violence carried out by Muslims each day”?

    I suppose by your statement that these are headlines about “real” violence that are, in you words, carried out each day by Muslims, are they?

    I think that you and some others might be surprised, and than again maybe not, to give some thought to the fact that many actually do differentiate between Muslims (people) and islam.


    What 9/11 and subsequent events have proven is that ALL religions are hotbeds of violent fanaticism and that alleged “moderate” religionistas will spend far more time playing the mortally offended innocent victim than going after the violent terrorists and criminals in their own midst.

    If a doctor is shot in the face in church, what difference does it make if the finger that pulled the trigger is moslem or christian?

    And Breivik considered himself a christian warrior.

  • Rongoklunk

    Exactly SODDI. Christendom was every bit as violent and nasty as Islam can be. To be a nonbeliever back when the Church had all the power would get you tortured to recant, or burnt alive. And if you happened to be accused of witchcraft you could get drowned to death. In addition, Irrationality and supernaturalism ruled. And it would still be going on if people like Voltaire, Locke and Thomas Paine hadn’t helped during the Age of Reason to change all that, making superstition take a back seat to commonsense and science, and decency and eventually to non-violence. Would that Islam could experience a similair de-superstitioning. One can only hope.

  • aby

    Every time I hear the expression “American Muslim” I recoil back in disbelief. A Muslim might be residing in France or America but never will he be French or American or any of the recognised nationalities. His loyalty, if any,will be to the virtual so-called” Ummah” or Muslim Nation and its virtual head, the Caliph.


    Mayflower compact:

    In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
    Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
    In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.[13]


    Thank God we’re a Christian Nation!

  • tianxiang69

    I truly feel sorry for people like Mr. Lean who are so afraid of the truth, which flies in the face of what they would like to believe, that they are forced to write such drivel in a vain attempt to make everyone feel better about Islam, even though it is blatantly false. Why do we feel that we have to defend a particular faith simply because it is a religion protected by the Constitution? I absolutely support Muslims and everyone else who has a religious belief to hold to their faith and practice it, so long as it does not interfere with other people’s ability to live their lives freely as well. IAlso, just as protected by the Constitution, is my right to call out ridiculous belief systems and comment on how dangerous and contrary to our Constitution the beliefs portrayed in the Quran are. Muslims can keep on believing, and we can keep reading their book and detailing what terrible things it actually says.
    How this author can make the statement that Muslims are the victims of 9/11 is simply beyond belief. How many attacks in the name of Islam have been committed since 9/11? How many infidels in the US have been killed by Islamists simply because they were unbelievers? Fort Hood anyone? Attacks have occurred all over the place from Seattle to New York with varying degrees of “success.” Ok, and how many Muslims in the US have been killed by Infidels in the name of another religion? Zero. It seems it might actually be more dangerous to be Sikh than Muslim in the US. So sorry that the poor Muslims feel uncomfortable or looked at askance by their non -Muslim neighbors. Oh, and they are being monitored by law enforcement. Wah, wah. So were the Irish Catholics back in the day. Why? Reality.
    All of us are suffering the aftermath of the attacks, whether it is in airports or the expense of battling these religious zealots. If the Muslims want to blame someone for their “suffering” they need look no farther than fellow Muslims who are committing attrocities