Since 9/11, US Muslims Have Gained Unprecedented Political, Cultural Influence

Source: Newsweek

By Steve Friess

It’s been an impressive 2021 so far for Muslim Americans. The U.S. Senate, that bastion of partisan gridlock, overwhelmingly confirmed the nation’s first Muslims as a federal district court judge and to chair the Federal Trade Commission. Legislatures in five states swore in their first Muslim members, including a nonbinary, queer hijab-wearing representative in, of all places, Oklahoma. Three Detroit suburbs are poised this fall to elect their first Muslim mayors. The New York Jets tapped Robert Saleh as the first Muslim head coach of any American pro sports team. CBS premiered, then renewed The United States of Al, the first broadcast network sitcom with a Muslim lead character. And Riz Ahmed, star of Sound of Metal, became the first Muslim nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.

“Everywhere I look, I see firsts happening,” says MLB Tonight sportscaster Adnan Virk, who in 2012 became the first on-air Muslim host on ESPN.

As the 20th anniversary of September 11 approaches, the recent rise of many Muslim Americans to positions of power and influence—in Washington and in statehouses, on big screens and small ones, across playing fields and news desks—is a development that few in the U.S. would have predicted two decades ago, Muslims included. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks by the radical Islamic sect Al-Qaeda, anti-Muslim hate crimes exploded and the ensuing global “war on terror” to root out jihadists created a “climate of discrimination, fear and intolerance,” as one think tank described it, that surrounded people of Islamic faith in this country and lasted for years. Then, just as heightened anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. seemed to be subsiding, Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 on an agenda overtly hostile towards Muslims, and revved it up again.

“Everywhere I look, I see firsts happening,” says MLB Tonight sportscaster Adnan Virk, who in 2012 became the first on-air Muslim host on ESPN.

As the 20th anniversary of September 11 approaches, the recent rise of many Muslim Americans to positions of power and influence—in Washington and in statehouses, on big screens and small ones, across playing fields and news desks—is a development that few in the U.S. would have predicted two decades ago, Muslims included. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks by the radical Islamic sect Al-Qaeda, anti-Muslim hate crimes exploded and the ensuing global “war on terror” to root out jihadists created a “climate of discrimination, fear and intolerance,” as one think tank described it, that surrounded people of Islamic faith in this country and lasted for years. Then, just as heightened anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. seemed to be subsiding, Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 on an agenda overtly hostile towards Muslims, and revved it up again.

It is the experience of coming of age in this post-9/11 environment, experts say, that drew a new generation of young Muslims to activism, and motivated them to use their voices in political and cultural arenas to debunk misinformation. That they’ve found a receptive audience beyond the Muslim community suggests to some observers that many Americans now understand that the anti-Islamic rhetoric they’ve been served in recent years is based on myths and untrue. As Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who in 2007 became the first Muslim sworn in as a member of Congress, tells Newsweek, “The haters have been proven to be liars.” Maybe. But trend data suggests the answer is not that simple and anti-Islamic sentiment remains a factor 20 years after 9/11. Anti-Muslim hate crimes, for instance, are second only to antisemitic incidents, FBI statistics show. And in a Gallup poll, one-third of Americans, and a full 62 percent of Republicans, said they’d never vote for a Muslim candidate for president, by far the least support for people of any religion in the survey.

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Categories: Muslim Heritage

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