Op-Ed

Life getting harder for American Muslims

It's been seven years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and many young American Muslims are convinced that much of American society views them with growing hostility.

They're right.

A 2007 Zogby poll discovered that 76 percent of young Arab-Americans report experiencing discrimination. A CNN poll from the same year found that 53 percent of Americans believe conflict between Islam and Christianity is "inevitable," up from 45 percent in 2003.

These hardening attitudes affect the job opportunities of American Muslims. One study from 2004 sent out 6,000 fictitious resumes — all similarly qualified but with different, ethnically identifiable names — to employers across California.

The worst name to have? Abdul-Aziz Mansour. It's not surprising, then, that earnings of Arab and Muslim men have declined relative to the general population since 2001.

And profiling continues to be a problem. The Justice Department is seeking to enshrine its practice in national security investigations, allowing the FBI to invade the privacy of Americans and open cases against people without the benefit of evidence or probable cause. Such a policy would disproportionately affect the Arab- and Muslim-American communities, but we should all be concerned.

The hostility to young American Muslims is unwarranted.

Do they seethe with resentment and hatred of the United States? Are they dire threats to our national security? A terrorist recruiter's dream? Not at all.

After three years of research on this issue, I can tell you that I heard young American Muslims talk about a great many things, but not once did I hear them express support for Osama bin Laden, wish harm on their fellow Americans or plot the takeover of the United States — all accusations leveled with startling frequency at the American Muslim community.

Young Arab Muslim Americans spend their time and energy worrying about landing a good job, finding a mate and getting married, achieving happiness and fulfilling their potential. Most are critical of American foreign policy (as are many other Americans). Among the more pious, topics in Islam occupy a good deal of conversation, and these discussions often center on how best to refute the stereotypes and misconceptions people have of their faith.

At the same time, we need to record the victories and successes. In many corners of the country, Islam is increasingly understood as an American religion. Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D-Ind. — both Muslim — have been elected to Congress. There is more genuine interest in the Arab world than ever.

The young people I talk to feel this push-and-pull of acceptance and rejection clearly.

Where does that leave us, seven years after 9/11? In some ways, we seem to be teetering on the cusp, ready to tilt toward a society that recognizes the bedrock principle of equality for all or one where discrimination is not just tolerated in the workplace but enforced through the law.

Osama bin Laden is responsible for the terrorist attacks, and for that, he should be brought to justice. But we are the ones responsible for deciding what kind of nation we want to live in.

That choice is ours.

Moustafa Bayoumi is the author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America (The Penguin Press).

Progressive Media Project

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