Last month marked the 19th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. A vicious attack on the United States and the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history. We know about the devastation caused on that day, and I can imagine 9/11 is one of the darkest days of most of our lifetimes.
However, this blog post will not talk about 9/11, explaining the details, which can all be found on Wikipedia. I want to highlight the aftermath of this day and analyse to what extent the “War on Terror” exacerbated racism, precisely, Islamophobia. Now, I will be mainly be looking at the Bush administration, from 2001 to 2009, which may seem like a lifetime ago. But, there was a rapid spread of Islamophobia worldwide which hasn’t gone away. It is still as prevalent today as it was when Bush declared war on Islamic terrorism. The “War on Terror” caused an upsurge of demonisation and discrimination towards Muslim and other Asian communities.
“War on Terror”
“War on Terror” is a term that describes the American-led global counter-terrorism campaign. This was launched in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 and was a concept created and used by President George W. Bush’s administration from 2001 to 2009. During that time the USA, under President Bush’s leadership, declared war on radical Islamic terrorism.
Strangely, the phrase “War on Terror” signifies a war being fought against an abstract concept, namely terror. Ok then, I must ask the question: can a war be waged against an idea?
What is terrorism?
As you can imagine, there is a surplus of definitions of terrorism. Still, one I think is concise is one by Ami-Jacques Rapin. Rapin stated that regardless of the description or the definer, “the definition often turns out to be a disarming tautology: terrorism is that which produces terror!”
“Terrorism, although it has individual victims, is an onslaught upon society itself. Terror is a natural phenomenon, and terrorism is the conscious exploitation of it. Terrorism is coercive, designed to manipulate the will of its victims and its larger audience.”John Thrackhah – Dictionary of Terrorism (2004)
The onslaught upon society in the Western World when this phrase was popularised was radical Islamic terrorism. Thus the expression identifies the war as the United States and its allies, such as Britain, on one side of the conflict, and al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist governments and movements on the other.
As expected, after 9/11, the Western World released a wave of new anti-terror legislation. As a Brit, I know that the United Kingdom acted extremely compared to other European nations. I’m going to highlight some of the measures that were put into place.
In 2004, the UK adopted 57 new anti-terror measures. In many cases, these anti-terror measures disproportionately targeted the Muslim community, primarily young Muslim males. From 2002-03, the stop and search of Asian people, a category associated with Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, increased by 285%. Seem a fair measure to you? Well, along comes Hazel Blears. Blears was the Minister of State at the Home Office, with responsibilities for policing, crime reduction and counter-terrorism. She proclaimed that “Muslims will have to accept as a reality that they will be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public”.
Now call me out if you think I’m too bold here. If white Christian supremacists caused 9/11, Christians would not have to accept as a “reality” that they will be stopped and searched by the police more often than the rest of the public. But even considering the number of stop and searches on the Asian community increased dramatically, arrests were made in only 1.18% of cases. The vast majority of these arrests were not connected to terrorism; from 2001 to when Blears addressed this issue, only four of the seventeen people arrested for terrorist attacks in the UK identified as Muslim. This begs the question: why are Muslims more likely than other ethnicities to be stopped and searched by police?
“The war on terror has had a devastating effect on British Muslims”
The war on terror has had a devastating effect [on British Muslims]. (…) We have become targets of the security apparatus and are seen as an enemy within unjustifiably. This has resulted in a backlash against the Muslim community. We have become the hidden victims. People are having to live, being terrorised, in the name of the War on Terror.Massoud Shadjareh – Chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (2005)
Furthermore, the UK Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act of 2001 introduced internment without trial for foreign nationals. For three years, those incarcerated were detained in high-security prisons and mental health institutions under this power, without ever knowing the suspicions that kept them there. These anti-terror measures identify that prejudice exists.
Now a harrowing example of further Islamophobic driven attacks from the police is the 2006 Forest Gate raid. The raid focused on two Muslim brothers suspected, by the media, of perpetrating terrorism. Over 250 police officers, security and anti-terror personnel raided the home leaving one of the brothers shot. However, despite all this, there was no evidence of terrorist activity, and the men were released without charge.
But this discrimination was not UK specific. This prejudice was also prevalent across Europe, with foreign nationals being denied their human rights and civil liberties in many other countries. Liz Fekete discovered that France, Italy, Sweden, to name a few, deported foreign nationals suspected of posing a security risk. Therefore, abandoning the principle of non-refoulement according to which foreign nationals cannot be deported to a state where they risk persecution, the death penalty, torture or other degrading treatment.
Furthermore, across Europe, there has been a pattern of large-scale police operations conducted against the Muslim community. For example, in 2002, the German police completed raids on mosques. A total of 617 worshippers were checked and detained for several hours. Muslims were wrongly treated as criminals. This identifies that this nation and Europe are clearly under the grasp of prevalent Islamophobia.
“[Islamaphobia] is a media-driven phenomenon that is supported by a wider geopolitical campaign to undermine, destabilise and effectively remove Islam’s ever-growing presence.”Dr Tahir Abbas, 2006
Muslim Community in the media spotlight
It is indisputable that the Muslim community has been in the media spotlight across the globe. Muslims are negatively portrayed and stereotypically informed often with virulent, racialised Islamophobic discourse. When it comes to assigning blame for non-integration, the media point the finger at Muslims and other non-white communities. This is an underlying reason why the attack on multiculturalism began to rise. Katy Sian and colleagues discovered that 70% of media coverage representing Muslims, excluding stories relating to Middle East violence in Egypt, Syria and Pakistan, was hostile.
This proves that the media demonise particular groups, especially Muslims. Consequently, due to these incorrect accusations never being corrected, a great deal of sensationalism and fear is generated by national media coverage of asylum/immigration issues. This is still the case today, considering that news broke of a record number of refugees attempting to cross the English Channel in August.
It has been discovered that 80% of people do not believe what is reported in the tabloids. However, the same percentage of people admitted that they get their ideas and information from the media, the content which is supposedly disbelieved. Understand that? No, me neither! As a result of the press being weighted with racist content and hate speech and criminalising the Muslim community, the attitude of Islamophobia has increased. Subsequently, the series of vilification and violent racist attacks on these communities’ members are believed to have been caused by the media’s labelling and targeting.
Public sense of anger and fear towards the Muslim community
After 9/11, there was, and still is, an undoubtedly evident sense of anger and fear towards the Muslim community. As mentioned, this is further provoked by the relentless media attacks. To put this into perspective, in the first week alone after 9/11, 645 hate-inspired attacks against Arabs, Muslims and Asians, were reported in the US alone. Likewise, in Britain from 2001-2003, 674 reported anti-Muslim attacks, with many more going unreported. For example, graffiti was written on a mosque in northeast England reading ‘‘Avenge USA – Kill a Muslim now.’’
In one vicious incident, an Afghani taxi driver was attacked by three passengers in West London, leaving him a quadriplegic. The list of perverse incidents towards these communities is too long to recount. The hatred and racism embedded within them are explicit. But if the following poll results don’t highlight this Islamophobia, nothing will. A poll conducted in the USA showed that the public supported airstrikes in both the United States and foreign countries against foreign nationals suspected of terrorism. However, they oppose them when used to target US citizens who are suspected terrorists.
But the US did kill a US citizen! Anwar al-Awlaki was killed on foreign soil because he was a suspected terrorist, and large majorites approved. This suggests that many believe the concept of an “American” does not include people with surnames such as “al-Awlaki”. These polls identify the underlying racism, which both provokes the countless hate-inscribed attacks towards the Muslim and other Asian communities and fuels the “War on Terror”. Tragically, this war, in turn, powers underlying feelings of racism and hatred, which further prolongs and intensifies the “War on Terror”. It is a vicious cycle that only leads to more hate and violence.
I apologise if this post comes across as a rant, but maybe it is. I, like many others, am getting rather tired of this media-driven, Islamophobic rhetoric. Although this post won’t stop it, I hope to open some eyes to it. It is unambiguous that the “War on Terror” has exacerbated racism.
A plethora of anti-terror measures put in place after 9/11 have targeted Muslims and those of other Asian communities, leaving them feeling victimised and oppressed. Moreover, the media’s relentless interest in ‘‘militant jihadi” activity directly perpetuates this problem. Finally, with the escalation of hate crimes towards these communities by the general public, the shared sense of Islamophobia is vividly portrayed.
Muslim communities have been targeted, demonised and alienated from the socio-political sphere. This post focused primarily on the initial impact the “War on Terror” had on racism. However, this discrimination is still apparent in today’s climate with the rise of nationalism. President Trump’s “Muslim ban” and France’s niqab ban are convincing evidence to support this claim. The “War on Terror” has been fundamental in the rise of Islamophobia, assisted in alienating the Muslim community, and inflamed the global pandemic of racism.