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Arzu Kaya Uranli Headshot

The Paradox of Muslim Americans

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The 12th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil has just passed. Sept. 11 is supposed to bring the nation together.

Yet it seems that, unfortunately, it cannot. After the most tragic incident in the country's history, rather than joining in bipartisan ceremonies, conservatives rallied on the West Lawn of the Capitol. They were carrying signs that said, "Impeach Obama," and over a cartoon of him stamping Uncle Sam, "Americans Don't Support Terrorists or Their Minions." Also, on the other side of the Capitol, conservative leaders joined a memorial service for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and to remember the four men who were killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, during an attack on the U.S. Consulate there. Basically, the conservatives assembled to blame the Obama administration for the deaths, reminding people how Muslim terrorists hate the U.S. and demanding further investigations of the attack in 2012.

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims in America were focused on the daily activities of settling down, raising children and earning a decent living. September 11th changed that routine dramatically. By having to stand up for their rights, Muslims began facing the reality of life in the U.S. while voicing their concerns about issues such as the Patriot Act, immigration laws and freedom in general.

Especially in the post-9/11 era of television and films, Muslims are often portrayed as the bad guys, like the terrorists often seen in FOX's 24, or in the Bruce Willis film The Siege. Well isn't that a form of discrimination? It's easy to see why many Americans would fear Muslims when the only real exposure they have to Islamic life is from the American media. The natural cause of Sept. 11 is a big paranoia in the U.S. in that some people see all American Muslims as potential terrorists. Worse, some Muslim Americans even doubt other Muslim Americans! I've met many people who didn't tell me they were Muslim until I declared that I was one, defending themselves by stating that the image of Muslims is not a good one so they did not want to be misunderstood.

In the meantime the New York Times reported, "The Truth About American Muslims," is actually completely different:

At the Justice Department, it's called the post-Sept. 11 backlash -- a steady stream of more than 800 cases of violence and discrimination suffered by American Muslims at the hands of know-nothing abusers.

These ongoing hate crimes remarkably contrast the Senate hearing that the Muslim-American community has been radicalized.

I have to mention that an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University, Lori Peek, in her book Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11, also states that after Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim Americans were subjected to alarming amounts of backlash violence. In the 230-page book, 140 Muslim Americans describe their experiences encountering prejudice, discrimination, exclusion and harassment both pre- and post-9/11. The book seeks to explain the reasons why blame is so prevalent after catastrophes, using Muslim Americans as the prime example. Peek also explores the reasons why many young Muslims are struggling to create identities and a sense of community during a period of national distrust.

The challenges among young Muslims involve embracing who they really are and how they fit into American daily life. They are more aware than their parents and are searching for an identity which allows them to fully integrate with American culture while being loyal to Islam.

In the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page stated: "Why, I once asked a Muslim colleague, don't I hear moderate Muslims speak out against Islamic extremists? 'Maybe you're not listening,' she said." Yes, listening is key. A diversified mosaic of peaceful Americans living together in harmony can be achieved by open dialogue, mutual respect and by seeking to understand the other party's point of view first. This is not impossible to achieve. Current and future politicians must avoid provocative remarks if they want to see this achieved.

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This article was previously published in Today's Zaman