Imagine one day, you oversleep your alarm clock by a few hours. You wake up, and the world is a different place. You leave your house and your neighbors look at you with suspicion. You walk down the street and racial slurs are shouted your direction. Your sister is harassed at her workplace. Your brother, a lawful resident, is forced to give his fingerprints to immigration. Your cousins are made refugees in their homeland (again). Confused, you turn on the news and see two planes have hit the World Trade Center. Your world has changed forever.
Ten years later, this is the legacy and impact of the attacks of September 11th, 2001 for members of the Arab community in the US, as well as other Muslims, South Asians, and Middle Easterners. Unfortunately, the time since 9/11 has been a time of continued tragedy and grief for our communities in the US, as well as for our families in our countries of origin.
A tragic event can build resilience and growth, or it can foment fear. 9/11 is a marking point to reflect and evaluate, and be a moment, ten years on, to collectively ask ourselves how have we healed and what have we learned.
With individuals and the media seeking explanation and blame, 9/11 signaled immediately to Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities that we should brace for heightened institutional racism and state violence. The US government had an opportunity tocall for greater global unity, evaluate the root causes of these attacks, and build a stronger nation through increasing rights and resources to communities. However, the government instead capitalized on the hysteria and used the rising xenophobia to push through a seemingly endless series of restrictive policies to create further global division through increased war and imperialism. We need not look too far into US history atJim Crow laws or WWII internment camps to understand how the attacks of 9/11 have similarly been used as a catalyzing historical moment to accelerate preexisting racism in order to pass harmful government policies which had previously been illegal (such as warrantless wiretapping or water-boarding).
Although Islamophobia (hatred and oppression of Muslims and Islam) preceded 9/11, 9/11 helped to legalize new types of institutionalized racism and increased policing. For example, we witnessed community accounts of bias in immigration prior to 9/11, but the government was able to legalize this bias with the NSEERS program, requiring male immigrants from primarily Muslim and Arab countries to register with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — a process through which thousands of US residents were detained and/or deported. Ten years after 9/11, all immigrant communities now suffer from the expansion of the security state (or Terrorism Industrial Complex)-with its creation of the Department of Homeland Security, murky amalgamation of national security policies, intelligence sharing, nationality-based screening, desktop raids, and community policing.
Immigrant populations face increased surveillance and daily confrontations with a sprawling defense industry. The ‘war on terror’ is conflated with the ‘war on immigrants’, in both rhetoric and tactics. Ambiguously titled programs (i.e Community Shield, Secure Communities, Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiatives), institutions, and Memoranda of Understanding between local law enforcement and the department of Homeland Security have contributed to questionable methods of information gathering. By combining immigration services with criminal justice, the federal government mandates programs such as Secure Communities, “Criminal Alien Program” and 287(g) agreements which grow the domestic security apparatus, including local police, transit, port authorities and authorize new agencies as immigration enforcers and FBI agents.
Arab and Muslim communities have always faced racism alongside other communities of color. This did not begin on 9/11, but on this anniversary we can see how this racism has had a clear design and purpose: to gain the complicity of the “average” citizen towards greater oppression of people of color worldwide for economic and political benefit of those in power. In a period of great economic depression, corporations have made billions in profits off of the increase in domestic policing, the growth of immigration detention facilities, the militarization of the border, and development of new military technology which fuels continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and new military assaults waged in Pakistan, Libya, and Yemen.
In the immediate wake of the attacks of September 11th, the US government initiated devastating wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, killing and starving entire populations. Ten years later we can count US military bases and troops stationed not only in these two nations, but in the great majority of nations worldwide. Looking forward on the anniversary of 9/11 and the days after, we fear that the US government and the Right Wing may again use this anniversary as an occasion for their political, economic, and military gain.
These are just a few examples, when in actuality, in the last ten years we have witnessed countless individual and state attacks on Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities, with the US government abusing people’s fear in order to isolate our communities from one another and thus advance the wars abroad and attacks on civil liberties at home. However, with this statement, we ask you not only to remember the casualties of 9/11 and its aftermath, but to remember our growth and our collective struggles. Remember communities not in isolation, but instead rising up together to protect one another at grassroots and organizational levels. Remember the community lawyers, activists, cultural workers, labor activists, students, and parents who have been empowered in new ways to become leaders in Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities.
And imagine waking up differently this time… Imagine waking up with a new spirit of global resistance to war and imperialism. Imagine new energy to ensure resources and services for all communities. Imagine new collaborations that crisscross borders in our struggle for migrant rights. Imagine our strength and unity as we work for the rights of all people.
Arab Resource and Organizing Center
September 9, 2011