Muslim Americans see their political influence grow 20 years after 9/11

History at a glance

The political and cultural power of Muslim Americans has grown over the past 20 years as a result of an expanding voter base and a record number of candidates running for office both locally and nationally.

But the rise to political power came with its difficulties.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks carried out by al-Qaeda on American soil, Muslims living in the US have experienced political and cultural firsts along with an exponential increase in hate crimes, bullying, harassment and racial profiling.

In the years since 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiment has grown in the United States.

Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage, a Muslim American citizen group, explained to Changing America that Muslim Americans could have remained silent after 9/11 as “a way to defend their interests and their freedoms” because hostile rhetoric.

But eventually, Alzayat said, the community warmed to a more positive agenda, engaging in political discourse and becoming an active voting bloc in American elections.

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By 2020, a record number of Muslim Americans voted and ran for elected office.

Emgage found that there were 1.5 million registered Muslim American voters in 2020, and that more than half — 71 percent — voted. The rate was four percentage points higher than the national average of about 67 percent.

The country has also seen an increase in the number of Muslim candidates and elected officials.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) was the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2007.

In addition, Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. The progressive members of the “team” are two of the most prominent Muslim voices in American politics, elected in the 2018 “blue wave” during the Trump administration.

A record 81 Muslim American candidates filed for office in 2020 in 28 states and Washington, DC, according to a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

But these milestones have been accompanied by a growing increase in Islamophobic incidents in the US

Data from Brown University revealed that from 2000 to 2009, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 500%.

Beyond former President Obama’s presidency, critics argue that former President Trump’s policies displayed hostility toward the community, including the travel ban, which included predominantly Muslim countries.

In 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that there were 110 anti-Muslim incidents in the US, the second highest after anti-Jewish acts.

The DOJ also found that religion was the second most common cause of individual bias incidents in the U.S.

A Pew Research survey found that Republicans increasingly associate Muslims and Islam with violence, with 72 percent of Republicans in 2021 believing that Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence.

Among Democrats, 34 percent felt the same.

Abdullah Hammoud, the first Muslim American mayor of Dearborn, Mich., told Changing America that there was a sense of urgency among members of the Muslim American community to step up and push Islamophobia in a post-9/11 America.

Before becoming mayor, Hammoud ran for a seat in the Michigan Legislature. He shared that doors were “slammed in his face” when he was introduced.

Hammoud, a Michigan state congressman, won Dearborn’s mayoral election, making him the city’s first Arab-American mayor. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News via AP)

“I hit a neighbor, who was a Democratic alderman, two blocks from my house at the time. And when I said, “I’m Abdullah Hammoud and I’m running for office, he said, ‘I’m disgusted that you’re my neighbor,’ and he slammed the door in my face.”

Hammoud told Changing America that one of the first questions his parents asked him when he shared his intentions to run for elected office was whether he would run under the name “Abdullah.”

“Many people told me I would never win with a name like Abdullah and told me to change my name to Abe Hammoud,” he shared.

Tlaib and Omar have previously said they have received violent threats during their brief time in Congress.

During a press conference, Omar played a voicemail she received in which the operator described her as “Muslim talk” — which is very good for “taking over our country.”

Omar also came under fire from colleagues in Congress, including Rep. Lauren Bobert (R-Colo.), who described her as a member of the “jihadist group” and even suggested he was a “terrorist sympathizer”.

Minnesota Democrats released a statement last year calling on the Republican Party not to hold its members accountable for anti-Muslim hate and harassment.

“This is not a statement of hate or a politician. This is a party that has incorporated bigotry and hatred. It is time for Republican leader McCarthy to truly hold his party accountable,” the 2021 statement said.

Hatem al-Bazian, Director, Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at the University of California, Berkeley, said both Omar and Tlaib are under “constant attack” on their status, personality and more.

“The attacks are not only from Republicans, but sometimes even from centrists or establishment Democrats, so you can see it in how Islamophobia is the ‘big elephant’ or the ‘big ass’ in politics and has no partisan connection. “, he said.

The attacks on both Omar and Tilab fit into this sense of defining “who is American” and who is not, according to al-Bazian.

“It’s constantly trying to delegitimize what it is and essentially their religion and the constant demonization because of their religion,” he added.

But despite these challenges, Muslim Americans are not only increasing their presence in politics but also in American pop culture.

Marvel Studios introduced its first Pakistani-American character in its Ms. Marvel, while Netflix has presented the script of the Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer and the stand-up special of the Indian-American Hasan Minhaj.

Al-Bazian said that despite representations in film and entertainment, they are no sign that anti-Muslim prejudice has been eradicated.

“For every community to have the space to be able to articulate and tell stories about themselves is a positive development,” he said. “But if we take inclusion on screen and in diverse settings as a sign that racism and Islamophobia are at an end, then the steps taken by the black and Jewish community in film would show that strong currents of racism still persist.”

He added that there is still an “avalanche” of negative content in both TV shows and movies where Muslims are portrayed as terrorists.

Hammoud says he hopes these “firsts” of Muslim representation are not the last.

“The hope is that they are not the last to hold that office or have their own TV shows and movies. What I hope is that if my daughter Maryam decides to run for office, I hope her name is welcomed and not contested because of her,” he added.

“That if someone with an accent runs, people aren’t afraid. I think there is no office that is invisible to Muslim Americans,” he said.

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