Disaster revisited: Sept. 11

EDITOR’S NOTE : This is the third in a four-part series looking at recent humanitarian crises. Tomorrow’s will look at Southeast Asian tsunamis.

Even eight years after the tragedy at New York City’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, Muslim-Americans have remained in a melting pot of suspicion and isolation. This is because the perpetrators were Muslims. Muslim-Americans became the prime target after Sept. 11, 2001. âÄúWhen Al-Qaida and Saddam [Hussein] was identified as enemies, Muslims were identified as enemies too,âÄù said Peter Erlinder, professor of constitutional criminal law and international humanitarian law at the William Mitchell Law School . At a time when a number of Americans know little about Muslims and Islam, and with the media and Hollywood being the only sources for many, Muslims often are depicted as brutish and terrorists. As a consequence, the 8 million Muslims living in the U.S. are seen today in the global context of terror, community leaders, students and experts say. The United States is home for these isolated Muslim-Americans, who say they feel marginalized here at home and yet far away from their native land. Since Sept. 11, Muslims suffer from airline and job discrimination and the PATRIOT Act that legally allows law enforcement officers to conduct searches with less red tape than before. âÄúItâÄôs quite well-known that Imams are arrested because they are praying,âÄù Erlinder said. âÄúYes, there is discrimination.âÄù After the attacks things changed on the University of Minnesota campus as well. The President of the Muslim Student Association , Fadi Zain , experienced some differences after the attacks. âÄúAs we posted flyers on the posters,âÄù Zain said, âÄúI remember coming back to where we started from and the janitor would only rip down our posters with no clear answers. We reported, but I donâÄôt know if they did anything.âÄù Zain said he believes the Sept. 11 attacks raised questions for the American people. The association holds an event âÄî Muslim Awareness Week âÄî each year to educate non-Muslims about Islam and that it is a peaceful religion. In the years since Sept. 11, Americans have researched to learn more about Islam and Muslims, Zain said. âÄúThey know more about Islam,âÄù he said. âÄúWe want to be treated as everybody else.âÄù Still, a number of Muslim University students said they could clearly remember being treated differently after Sept. 11. Education sophomore Saida Hassan was a seventh grader when the incident occurred. Since then, she said, Americans have changed. Two years after the tragedy, an angry man harassed her in a city bus. After staring at her, he shouted âÄúyou are a terrorist, go back to your country,âÄù Hassan recalled. âÄúI got used to that,âÄù she said, adding that it is easier for Muslim men to blend in with people than women because of their covers. Hassan said she feels she is isolated especially when she is in certain classrooms. American-born students âÄúdonâÄôt want to associate with me because the media structured their way of thinking,âÄù she said. âÄúIt is really hard for me to accept the fact that I am isolated at home.âÄù

Renewed fears

Muslim-Americans, particularly Somalis, were suspected of being terrorists when dozens of Somali men disappeared in the recent months from the Twin Cities to, some say, join Islamic jihads in Somalia. The missing young men âÄî University students among them âÄî grew up in America and did not know anything about Somalia and its politics. Many say that they had been brainwashed, while some parents of the youth and community leaders accused the Abubakar As-Saddique mosque to have links to the disappearance of the youth. The mosque, however, denies the allegations. This could accelerate negative thoughts held about Muslim-Americans. It is frustrating for many Somalis to travel and many were stopped from boarding flights âÄî even those who wanted to go on pilgrimage to perform religious duties. Omar Jamal , director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, expressed the difficulties that emerged after Sept. 11. âÄúRacial profiling created fear in the community,âÄù he said. Since the attacks, Muslim-Americans faced discrimination in the airport and, because of their faith, they lost their jobs. Jamal connects Sept. 11thâÄôs incident to the Somali youth who left from the Twin Cities to fight in Somalia. âÄúWhen the law enforcement marginalized the Muslims they felt they are not part of the society,âÄù he said. âÄúAnd because of this, they went in search of a place they call home.âÄù Imam Hassan Mohamud, a law professor at William Mitchell Law School and Minnesota Islamic University, had one of his students leave for Somalia. He said heâÄôs not sure if the men left for Somalia to fight in the Jihad. âÄúYouth disappeared but we donâÄôt why,âÄù he said. âÄúMany also go to Somali for business âÄî many graduate from colleges and want to build businesses.âÄù Mohamud, who also works with immigrants, said with the attention placed on mosques it can make people hesitant to be active and attend prayer activities. âÄúSince 9/11 mosques and their activisms are scrutinized,âÄù he said. âÄúPeople think that danger comes from the mosque. They are afraid of the mosques,âÄù he added, saying that some parents wonâÄôt allow their children to attend for fear that they too will be recruited.