More than a year after Sept. 11, many Muslims share the perception that they are bring marginalized in American society while at the same time receiving new scrutiny, according to two reports.
The Los Angeles Times (Sept. 27) reports that until the attacks of last year, American Muslims had been making headway in becoming an accepted religious minority in the American mainstream. Before Sept. 11, Muslims were just beginning to “win appointments to government commissions. Politicians were knocking on the doors of their mosques, asking for support. Muslims were becoming politically emboldened to run for office themselves…” writes Teresa Watanabe. Even after Sept. 11, the American public and leaders by and large reached out to Muslims, seeking to prevent attacks and discrimination against them.
“Since January, however, the landscape has shifted,” according to Watanabe. A “hardening of attitudes” can be seen in a number of best-selling books on the “Islamic menace” and in “leading figures among evangelical Christian denominations [whom] have made a series of public statements denouncing Islam as evil.” Polls show a downturn in positive opinions about Islam. For instance, a Los Angeles Times poll found 37 percent with a negative impression of Islam, compared with 28 percent show impression was favorable.
While respondents did show a more positive impression of American Muslims than of their faith, about a quarter said they had a negative impression of American Muslims. This environment has tended to discourage non-Muslim politicians — from George Bush on down — from appearing at Muslim events, as well as reduce the number of Muslims running for office. This year, only about 100 have done so — compared to 700 candidates in 2000.
An article reviewing the state of the Muslim community after September 11 on the website IslamOnline (Sept. 9) is more upbeat. Sam Highsmith writes that since the attacks “Muslims in America have moved from not being seen at all, to being scrutinized by the pubic and the press. Over time most Muslims have pushed aside fears of persecution in favor of taking advantage of the current platform to present Islam as the peaceful and dynamic faith that it is.”
Groups such as the Muslim Student Association have found themselves flooded with inquiries about Islam and the they have risen to the occasion, taking on a new role as “emissaries of both the religion of Islam and the cultures of the Middle East and south Asia.”