Muslims in US
Moustafa Bayoumi is author of the award-winning books How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (2009) and This Muslim American Life: Dispatches From the War on Terror (2015). He is professor of English at Brooklyn College. In this interview with MERIP editorial committee member Alex Lubin, Bayoumi reflects on the changing nature of anti-Muslim racism and the so-called war on terror.
Yemeni-American activist Rabyaah al-Thaibani was born in Ta‘izz, Yemen’s largest city, in 1977. She moved to the United States as a child to join her father, who was working nights cleaning office buildings in Manhattan. She grew up in Brooklyn, attended Columbia University and since has worked in community development in New York City. In 2011, she helped establish the Yemeni-American Coalition for Change, and in February 2017 worked to bridge Yemeni and American concerns by co-organizing the Yemeni bodega strike, mounted in protest of President Donald Trump’s first attempt at a “Muslim ban.” A named plaintiff in New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s effort to challenge the second “Muslim ban” in court, al-Thaibani agreed to talk with MERIP about how her childhood in Yemen and her experience as part of a wide Yemeni diaspora have influenced her activism in the US. She also spoke about what she would like outsiders to appreciate about Yemen and its current conflict. In a wide-ranging conversation of more than two hours with Stacey Philbrick Yadav, associate professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, al-Thaibani described the connections she sees between her home and her homeland, the optimism she feels about Americans’ “accidental awakening” since Trump’s election, and the ways in which Yemenis are represented in American policy debates. The following is an edited excerpt of the conversation.
So much is still unknown about the shooting at Fort Hood Army base and the motives of the alleged shooter, Nidal Malik Hasan, but still I have that same queasy feeling in my stomach that I've had before: this will not be good for Muslims.
First things first. Major Nidal Malik Hasan is in custody. We should judge him fairly and, if he is found guilty, punish him accordingly.
The same is true for Sergeant John M Russell. In May 2009 Russell shot and killed five of his comrades at a combat stress clinic in a US Army base in Iraq. Before that, Sergeant Joseph Bozicevich killed two American soldiers at his base just outside Baghdad in September 2008. What do these incidents point to?
Muslim-bashing has become socially acceptable in the United States.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Americans hold negative perceptions of Islam, 7 percentage points higher than after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The poll also discovered that a third of the respondents have recently heard prejudiced comments against Muslims. Even more depressing is that one in four openly acknowledges harboring prejudice toward Muslims.
Is this surprising? Unfortunately, it’s not. The vilification of Islam and Muslims has been relentless among segments of the media and political classes for the past five years.
“Seamos moros!” wrote the Cuban poet and nationalist José Martí in 1893, in support of the Berber uprising against Spanish rule in northern Morocco. “Let us be Moors…the revolt in the Rif…is not an isolated incident, but an outbreak of the change and realignment that have entered the world. Let us be Moors…we [Cubans] who will probably die by the hand of Spain.”  Writing at a time when the scramble for Africa and Asia was at full throttle, Martí was accenting connections between those great power forays and Spanish depredations in Cuba, even as the rebellion of 1895 germinated on his island.
Is the American public willing to accept suspended freedoms, if not for everyone, then for a select few disfavored groups, such as Muslims and Arab-Americans? Much press reporting has said yes, but a survey conducted directly after the September 11 attacks says no.
Unlike other ascribed and self-described "people of color" in the United States, Arabs are often hidden under the Caucasian label, if not forgotten altogether. But eleven months after September 11, 2001, the Arab-American is no longer invisible. Whether traveling, driving, working, walking through a neighborhood or sitting in their homes, Arabs in America — citizens and non-citizens — are now subject to special scrutiny in American society. The violence, discrimination, defamation and intolerance now faced by Arabs in American society has reached a level unparalleled in their over 100-year history in the US.
In the face of a post-September 11 wave of racially motivated attacks against people from the Middle East and South Asia, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division announced in a September 13, 2001 press release that "any threats of violence or discrimination against Arab or Muslim Americans or Americans of South Asian descent are not just wrong and un-American, but also are unlawful and will be treated as such."