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Research Paper on Muslims in The United States

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Acts of terrorism are specific forms of attacks in which ordinary citizens often die. The public looks to the government or ruling body to find out who is responsible and then implement swift action.

Historically, the U.S. went to war with Japan shortly after Pearl Harbor. As the general public lamented over the deaths of soldiers, domestic attitudes toward Japanese and oriental descendants began a wave of hatred that would last for years. Similarly, since the events of 9/11 were blamed on Islamic terrorists, a strong domestic backlash ensued.

This sample essay by one of our professional writers explains how the perceived differences among Muslims and Americans was illuminated and brought to the forefront of American culture and politics.

How the perception of Muslims changed

While longstanding socioeconomic and political differences often hampered the relationship between Muslim and other ethnically diverse Americans, the domestic attitudes resulting from the attacks on September 11, 2001 have been transformed into cultural associations with Muslims due to the mass media and retaliation, perpetuating deep-seeded stereotypical racism and inequality in the country. 

Indeed, the social and political perception of Muslims has drastically shifted after 9/11. Shahrough Akhavi (2003) argued that historical relations between Muslims and Americans have not always been as bitter as they are now. The general reason for the domestic backlash against Muslims has been due to strong federal, media, religious and social forces, as well as the War on Terror itself, which often manifested Western beliefs against Islam out of ignorance and misinterpretation of the actions taken by al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden (Leonard, 2002; Murphy, 2002; Leonard, 2005; Gerges, 2003). Consequently, higher levels of violent crimes and cultural associations of Islam and terrorism have developed (Mamdani, 2002; Disha, 2011). The cultural attitudes that developed post 9/11 would suggest that Muslims and Americans have had a long history of divergence and an overall schismatic relationship.

Misconceptions about the Middle East

The Western outlook on the Muslim community was greatly affected following 9/11. The entire international and domestic Muslim community was irreversibly altered by the actions taken by Al Qaeda. Shortly after the catastrophic event, initial perceptions of Muslims often stemmed from stereotypes concerning the Middle East as a whole.

The first of many common misconceptions was that the Islam is exclusively an export of the Middle East (Leonard, 2293). While the theology outlined by the prophet Muhammad in the seventh century A.D. originated in Mecca and Medina, Islam has spread dramatically since that time, having even more constituents in southeast Asia than in the Middle East.

Although the Western view of the Middle East had never been extremely positive, following 9/11, many Americans viewed the region and entire Muslim world as nearly subhuman (Akhavi, 558). Common conceptions of the Middle Eastern persons have more recently been that of those living nomadic, uneducated lifestyles, often stemming from a barbaric society void of what many would consider basic human rights (Mamdani, 771). There do exist many circumstances that the Western world would consider inappropriate, but the characterization of this significantly large and historically important group as incapable as humans of the lifestyle and fundamental goals that Westerns hold dear is an inappropriate conjuncture about the human capacity of Muslim people.

These outlooks concerning the lowest and most dehumanized individual’s in the Middle East have been extrapolated by much of the world to create a view of Islam that portrays the entirety of its population as carrying characteristics of subhuman brutality and menial intelligence.  As such, regardless of the socioeconomic condition of any individual Muslim, this stigma associated with a portray of the most estranged components of the Middle East will follow him or her throughout their life in the Western world.

How Western stereotypes of the Middle East originated

The negative view of the Middle East and the Muslim world arise from a number of complex conditions which have been twisted and exaggerated over time. As with many stereotypes and vicious portrayals, the origins of such outlooks have often stemmed from longstanding racism and cultural differences.

The economic frailty of Middle East is undeniable. Years behind the western world in technology and education, the economic problems faced by the majority of the Middle East is exasperated by elite control over their most valued natural resource: oil (Akhavi, 557). This resource has only heightened the dynamic disparity of wealth between the rich and poor, leading to many stereotypes of rich, greedy, and deceitful Middle Eastern businessmen as well as the hugely impoverished majority. While such stereotypes have existed well before September 11, 2001, the event only propelled hurtful and often misguided attacks towards Middle Eastern people as a whole, not simply its key leaders involved in oil production.

Similarly, there have been numerous academic discussions focused on issues of violence and women's rights in to Qur’an, often arguing that the primary religious device of Muslims opposes many commonly held Western morals. As Karen Leonard would have it, this type of ideological change between Euro-Americans and Muslims may continue into the future, as “problems of understanding the practice of Islamic law in the United States,” have also propelled after 9/11 (Leonard, 2293). 

The belief that Islam fosters terrorism

Furthermore, the notion that Islam fosters terrorist activities has become particularly prevalent following the 9/11 attacks. It is yet again undeniable that groups such as Al Qaeda claim to center their views on a system of Islamic fundamentalism. However, the assumption that the Islamic faith leads to terrorist factions is distinctly different than the fact that terrorist organizations use Islam as a rallying point (Disha, 22). These types of problems regarding American public opinion of Muslims have been extremely pervasive over the last several years, with many political voices claiming that action against the Middle East, not necessarily the Islamic fundamentalist groups responsible for the 9/11 attacks, would be prudent and justified. 

Such rhetoric has also sharpened the cultural divide between Euro and Muslim-Americans, as well as Muslim-Americans themselves. Recently in the United States, upon the attacks on September 11th, “Muslim leaders have sought to develop a version of Islam and Muslim identity in accord with local norms and values,” a very challenging political concern for many American-Muslims and their conception of their faith (Moore, 117).  (Discover how Islam varies by region worldwide.) Thus, not only has 9/11 brought heightened divides between ethnically diverse Americans, but also between Muslim-Americans themselves, all of whom seeking different representation in the country's complex political system. While all these issues contain some degree of threat against Western theology, they have been thus enormously overplayed in the United States, often as a way to garner public attention and political power. 

There numerous outlets feeding Western ideologies pertaining to Muslims have only served to perpetuate various stereotypes, hampering many Muslim-Americans in the United States. In popular culture, these stereotypes are put at the forefront of any Muslim imagine. To add to the social media examples of Muslim stereotypes given by Mahmood Mamdani, Comedy Central's South Park and Team America: World Police, viewed as exclusively radical and uneducated violent terrorists with little to no ability to communicate on a level other than incomprehensible banter.

The reinforcement of these outlooks are not exclusive to social media. Racial slurs against Muslims have taken on a colloquial use epitomizing a wide range of unrelated insults (Gerges, 82). For instance, it is rare for a politician to reference terrorism without including a reference to Islam in the same breath. These consistent reinforcements of Muslim stereotypes lead to a cultural effect where these images have become routine; they are accepted as true without introspection and examination (Moore, 127). When the facts are considered, a completely different view of Muslim world is painted, one in which the stigma of terrorism and unintelligent existence seems not only unreasonable, but entirely contradictory. 

Ideologies shared between Muslims and The West

The Islamic faith shares far more similarity with Western theology than many individual’s initially may assume. In fact, within the Islamic tradition, Christian and Jewish figures including Jesus, Abraham, and David all serve as revered prophets with an important role in shaping the religion. Allah literally translates to God, and in actuality refers to the same God of Abraham worshiped in Christianity and Judaism (Qur'an 18:4). Furthermore, the teachings of the Qur’an do not promote the types of violence used by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. The word Islam means to submit to God, and the way to peace. These teachings are professed throughout the holy scriptures.

Muslim women wear stars-and-stripes hibjabsSource: Flickr
Two Muslim women in the Maldives celebrate the United States by wearing stars-and-stripes hibjabs as shown in this 2014 photo by Adam Jones.
Two Muslim women wear stars-and-stripes hibjabs.

Legitimate Muslim scholars cite that the doctrine used by radical Islamic organizations often butchers the true meaning of the religion far more than it coincides with it (Akhavi, 546). In accordance, the genuine teachings of Islam promote a doctrine entirely opposed to the violent perception perpetuated by social media and the political scapegoating of the religion. Alienating Muslim theology has been prevalent in American society, as many Christians have often sought methods to “Orientalize” those of its faith. However, these differences only deepened after 9/11, as the strength of the terrorist attacks completely reshaped Americans vision of Middle Eastern religion, peace, and future colonialism (Murphy, 248).

In addition to the misconceptions concerning the religious components of Islam, the notion of a history of menial academic pursuits is founded in myth. In fact, Islamic culture is riddled with scientific and innovative thinking. Great minds such as Ibn Sina, Al-Farabi, and Abu Hamid al-Ghaazzali are just a few of the philosophical and theological minds that characterized progressive Muslim thought of the Golden Age of Islam (Akhavi, 548). In fact, the role of science and technology in Islam is in many ways more forward thinking than that of the contemporary conservative Christian movement in the western world. Despite the clear representation of Islam as backwards, rudimentary, and savage, quite the opposite is the actual situation, and in many ways the Muslim culture focuses on much more liberal and progressive views than other religious groups.  

How the conflict between Muslims and The West began

The obvious historical conflict between Islam and West are tempered by a tradition of compliance between the two philosophies in the American context. The most well known example of this conflict, and a source of considerable fuel for modern day aggressions between Islam and the West, were the Crusades. This series of military campaigns by the Roman Catholic Church was aimed at reclaiming holy cities occupied by Muslims in the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. While these military conflicts were a defining component of middle age relations, the more contemporary context, particularly as it concerns the Muslims in the United States, is very different.

It appears that the American code of ‘to each his own,’ was followed with regards to Muslim growth and expansion in America. Following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and multiple Immigration Acts set forth by President Lyndon B. Johnson, “the demographic shift in sources and numbers of Muslim immigrants after 1965 signaled an interruption in a perceived pattern of steady Muslim 'assimilation' or adaptation to American society, and Islam and Muslims have been claiming a place in American religious and political life” (Leonard, 2294). This highly bumpy 'assimilation,' however, has only shrunk after the attacks on 9/11, leaving many Muslim-Americans without the traditional voices they once had. 

Founded on principles of religious freedom, Muslims have traditionally been met with indifference over hostility, and few instances of religiously motivated violence and public outcry were noted prior to 9/11. The al-Qaeda attacks turned a page in public activity towards Muslims in the United States (Murphy, 249). Shortly after, a notable increase in violence towards Muslims, indications of racial profiling, and public protests at Mosques in communities were sighted around the United States (Disha, 34). This change in outlook and behaviors by the American masses led to a necessary reaction from within the Muslim community. Two options were presented, one of reaffirming dedication to the United States, and the other turning towards the radicalization that the American populace feared.

How Muslim Americans reacted to the 9/11 attacks

For much of the American Muslim community, the reaction to social pressure following 9/11 was to reaffirm their devotion to the United States. Following the terrorist attacks, there were numerous instances of Mosques attempting to portray themselves as an active component of the ideal American community, often reiterating their longstanding 'assimilation' into the country's socioeconomic fabric (Leonard, 2294). The desire to demonstrate western attitudes, and in some cases to distance themselves from the traditional Middle Eastern stigma, was prevalent throughout the American Muslim community. However, the opposite story has taken place as well.

Many American politicians and social commentators have claimed that the 9/11 attacks served to radicalize the American Muslim community. In many ways, this served to appeal to the concept of using the Muslim community as a scapegoat for the deaths associated with the terrorist attacks. It may be the situation that such cases of radicalization actually occurred in response to the social out lash from the American masses, and that this radicalization was not a direct effect of 9/11, but rather the result of mistreatment of the Muslim community in the aftermath. Regardless of the cause, specific instances of radicalization were noted within the American Muslim community in the years following 9/11, and these often isolated instances have served to perpetuate misconceptions about the community as a whole, and fueled anti-Muslim sentiment throughout the Western world. 

Relations between non-Muslims and the American Muslim community

Despite increased tensions between non-Muslims and the American Muslim community, the post 9/11 situation reflects an isolated incident in which both parties have the capacity to coexist. Firstly, Muslim and American cultures have shared period of coexistence in the past (Akhavi, 2003). Moreover, Muslims have worked to adapt their political and social strategies to account for the overwhelming pressure of the media and government to defend themselves (Leonard, 2005; Mamandi, 2002). Finally, the pluralistic nature of the U.S. does not fit the general context of the post 9/11 era (Moore, 2007). Thus suggests that tolerance and co-existence among Muslims and Americans is not entirely a rigid and concrete aspect of American culture; instead, it is the product of a reaction based cultural backlash enforced by the media and federal regulators. This offers hope that the American social and political infrastructure fosters a flexible environment to overcome the negative attitudes towards Muslims.

If you enjoyed this post and need guidance with your writing projects, browse the sample work produced by our professional writers, such as the annotated bibliography below.

Annotated bibliography on Muslims in The West

Akhavi, Shahrough. "Islam and the West in World History." Third World Quarterly 24.3 (2003): 545-562. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/3993385>.

This article examines the historical relationship between Islam and the West. Akhavi’s main argument is that while convergence among the cultures may not be a feasible option, mutual tolerance has existed beforehand and it can in the future. As religion is both religion and politics for Muslims, it has often been difficult for Muslims to define themselves with or without this critical aspect of life without facing some criticism in the West. Akhavi also outlined the historical decline of Islam as a civilization and the present challenges in assimilating themselves in the West. Primarily, since Western thought played an integral role in the development of Islamic philosophy, there remains hope for mutual existence and tolerance. I will use this article as a case study of how despite the recent events of 9/11, the notion that Muslims are entirely different and cannot accommodate to Western culture is not an accurate depiction. Instead, historical evidence will be used to show that the backlash after 9/11 is merely an isolated incident in the context of the whole relationship between Westerners and Muslims.

Disha, Ilir, James Cavendish, and Ryan King. "Historical Events and Spaces of Hate: Hate Crimes against Arabs and Muslims in Post-9/11 America." Social Problems 58.1 (2011): 21-46. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/sp.2011.58.1.21>. 

Disha and colleagues investigate the variation in hate crimes targeted towards Muslims both pre and post 9/11. Their results illuminated the fact that hate crimes towards Muslims did dramatically increase following 9/11. Most of these crimes also had geographic patterns. Communities where Muslims were the majority showed less crimes than communities where Muslims were the minority. In general, their research suggested the conclusion that terrorist attacks may incite domestic retaliation and encourage hate crimes. I will use this research to show how the events of 9/11 did have very real and statistical relevance in terms of hate crimes. Finally, this evidence will help illuminate how domestic attitudes and behavior have the capacity to change very quickly for the worst, and possibly for the better.

Gerges, Fawaz. "Islam and Muslims in the Mind of America." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 588 (2003): 73-89. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/1049855>.

This article analyzed the ways in which media, interest groups, congress and the U.S Public has directly influenced the making of American policy toward Islam. Primarily, Gerges argued that America’s general attitude toward Islam is not merely cultural and ideological, but also the result of strategic and security related considerations. The fear of terrorism has been the driving force in influencing cultural the attitudes of Americans towards Muslims. From the Iran war up through 9/11, U.S. security has remained a vital threat. Moreover, the media’s portrayal of Islam and the notion that congress has labeled terrorism as religion driven has also been influential. I will use this article to better understand the pre 9/11 context of Islam and the West. Since foreign policy often times comes from domestic attitudes, I will also analyze the role of the media and legislators in understanding the Islam experience in the West.

Leonard, Karen. "American Muslims, before and after September 11, 2001." Economic and Political Weekly 37.24 (2002): 2293-2297+2299-2302. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.   <https://www.jstor.org/stable/4412237>. 

Leonard argued that the events of 9/11 have drastically changed the approach American Muslims have taken in political organizations. Previously, foreign policy issues have taken dominance over domestic ones. However, in the post 9/11 era, these Muslims have taken a different approach by drawing widely on the traditions of humanistic and legal scholarship that Islam also stands for. The implications of this are that Muslims are being drawn into American political and Nationalistic discourse rather than merely religious or foreign policy based ones. This article will be primarily used to show how Muslims in the U.S have adapted to changing domestic attitudes post 9/11. Since affiliation with foreign policy issues have become increasingly problematic, more intense domestic integration with regard to politics has been a create way in assimilating better and hopefully gaining acceptance. 

Leonard, Karen. "American Muslims and Authority: Competing Discourses in a Non-Muslim  State." Journal of American Ethnic History 25.1 (2005): 5-30. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/27501661>.

In this article, Karen Leonard explores the authority within the Muslim community in the U.S. in the changing political and social landscape following 9/11. Most importantly, the media has been the main spokesperson for interpreting how Islamic law exists in the U.S. However, more recently, educated professionals such as doctors, lawyers and engineers have become more vocal about defining Islamic leadership in the U.S. In the post 9/11 era, foreign policy issues have gained dominance of domestic ones in defining Islamic values. President George W. Bush’s aggressive discourse with Muslim leaders has been responsible for this shift. Both the positive and negative repercussions of such global discourse have been sadly translated to the U.S. Islam community as well. Consequently, these U.S. Muslims have been on the defensive. I will use this article to emphasize the critical importance of global affairs and their consequences on domestic attitudes. Finally, this article will give a factual perspective on the structure and leadership of Islam communities in the U.S.

Mamdani, Mahmood. "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: A Political Perspective on Culture and Terrorism." American Anthropologist 104.3 (2002): 766-775. JSTOR. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/3567254>.

Mamdani argued that following 9/11, the labeling of Muslims as terrorists and the general attitude of judgment has been the product of a media driven and cultural context. Instead, he suggested that we should analyze terrorism as a modern construct that is not exactly associated with culture. Moreover, the author analyzed the political implications of carrying such attitudes in the US. On the whole, using these political and cultural generalizations, such as ‘good or bad,’ is an extremely problematic and biased dogma to carry. I will use this article primarily to show that the media played an integral role in shifting domestic attitudes to label Muslims either good or bad synonymously with terrorist and non-terrorist. Moreover, I will use it to illuminate the notion that it is easy to mix up and stereotype political identities and cultural values on a reactionary basis.

Moore, Kathleen. "Muslims in the United States: Pluralism under Exceptional Circumstances." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 612 (2007): 116-132. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. <https://www.jstor.org/stable/25097932>.

Moore argued that the study of Muslims in the U.S. post 9/11 must be aided with what the word pluralism really means in America. Most of her discussion relies on defining the word pluralism in a modern context. She defined it as a society that prides itself on cultural diversity and tolerance working towards a desired outcome. She also argued that the U.S. has not achieved this paradigm for many reasons. Although many Muslims live in the U.S., many still live in fear or alienation towards the general public. Attitudes that developed dramatically post 9/11 has contributed to the negative experience that some Muslims have faced and this impedes the notion that the U.S. is a pluralistic nation.

Murphy, Sean. "Terrorist Attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon." The American Journal of International Law 96.1 (2002): 237-255. JSTOR. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.   <https://www.jstor.org/stable/2686141>.

This article gave an expository and factual perspective on the events of 9/11. It gave precise details of the attacks and who were involved, along with the immediate federal response by the U.S. Government. Furthermore, the article detailed the international response by the UK and the bitter relationship between the US, Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda. On the whole, the article summarized the general events and response of the US in dealing with the attacks. Clear emphasis on the seriousness of the investigation was epitomized as well. I will use this article to get a clear background of facts and information on 9/11. More importantly, I will look at how the federal government responded domestically.

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