BY TOM GJELTEN
Fifteen years after the attacks of Sept. 11, Americans have grown aware not only of the danger of terrorism but also of the reality that their nation is far less white, Christian and European than it used to be.
“Culturally, we’re a country of Bollywood and bhangra and tai chi and yoga and salsa and burritos and halal and kosher,” says Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard University and author of A New Religious America.
Through her direction of the Pluralism Project at Harvard, Eck and her researchers have documented the growth of an “interfaith infrastructure” in the country.
“After 9/11,” she says, “it became important to know more clearly who is in our community. The level of ignorance was cracked. It is far from solved, but I think 9/11 did bring a moment of awakening that the ‘we’ of the United States is changing.”
A recognition of America’s increased diversity is especially critical for the Muslim American community. The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out in the name of Islam, and a majority of Muslims in the United States have said it became harder after those attacks to be a Muslim in this country.
In response, many are taking the responsibility themselves for improving relations with their neighbors. One important consequence of Sept. 11 was that Muslims, most of whom are immigrants, concluded they needed to become more socially and politically engaged.
“Before Sept. 11, Muslims — the majority of them — were living here physically, [but] mentally and spiritually they were living back home,” says Zahid Bukhari, executive director of the Council for Social Justice at the Islamic Circle of North America.