A woman wearing a hijab beside a blue and light blue, chipped painted wall.

Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Racism in a ‘Post’-9/11 World

“It was like 15 9/11s.”

Four days before President Biden would land in Tel Aviv and describe the Hamas attack as the equivalent of “15 9/11s” for Israel, a six-year-old boy was stabbed 26 times by his landlord who shouted, “You Muslims must die”(Chicago Sun-Times).

He would die from his wounds before Biden could condemn the attack. In a speech, he emphasized that a “horrific act of hate” like this is unwelcomed in the U.S. and goes “against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are.” 

Biden’s rejection of Islamophobia likely wouldn’t have stopped the attacker, who feared a “national day of jihad” and grew suspicious of his Palestinian Muslim tenants for whom he had previously built a treehouse. 

But for those who experienced the counterterrorism, mass surveillance, and violence following the Sept. 11 attacks, Biden’s slow response, “15 9/11s” line days later, and the dehumanizing language spewed by politicians, disseminated by news media was familiar—and confirmed what was already being felt in the Muslim and Arab community: a return of post-9/11 Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported an 182% increase in complaints and reported bias incidents since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, the largest “wave of complaints” they’ve received since the 2015 Muslim ban and after 9/11 (CAIRNBC News).

“Have we not learned anything from 9/11? Do we really want to live those dark years again,” Imam Omar Suleiman said before the boy’s funeral (Washington Post). “No child should ever have to pay for the crimes—or the manufactured image of a criminal—on the part of anybody else.”


• Support organizations like MPower ChangeMuslim AdvocatesMuslims for Just Futures, and Muslim Women For

• Support Witness Against Torture and join efforts to close Guantánamo.

Before, but overwhelming since 9/11, Muslim communities have been seen as a threat to U.S. life and democracy. In the West, Muslims and Arabs are seen as oppressive and barbaric, while Islam has become synonymous with terrorism. Because of this Islamophobia—the fear, suspicion, and hatred of Muslims fueled by negative stereotyping, cultural ignorance/insensitivity, media bias, and “institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility“—and anti-Muslim racism—the verbal abuse, hate crimes, dehumanization, prejudice, and discrimination—Muslims, and those who are perceived to be, are singled out and placed into a “suspect” category. This hostile framing attempts to justify Western military and political intervention abroad and mass surveillance in the states but also denies American status to Muslims born or naturalized in this country. 

When surveyed, half of the public believed that at least some U.S. Muslims are anti-American and that Islam is incompatible with “mainstream American society” because of its “natural conflict” with democracy (Pew ResearchPew Research), One respondent said, “there is no democracy in Islam.” However, 89% of Muslims say they are proud to be both American and Muslim, and most of whom believe in the American dream (Pew Research). It also ignores how many Arab and other predominantly Muslim nations support democracy and a democratic system and that there are “hundreds of millions” of Muslims living in some form of democratic country (Intercept). And even though, as of 2017, most people in the U.S. don’t view Islam as an extremist religion, one in three people would be concerned if a mosque or Islamic center was built in their neighborhood, feel uneased upon seeing a Muslim wearing a veil or other Islamic attire, and believe that Muslims should receive extra security screenings at airports (New America).

Since Muslims account for a small percentage of the U.S. population, most non-Muslim Americans don’t interact with or know someone who is Muslim, which greatly affects their views of them and their religion (Brookings). This means that news and media representation largely influence folks’ attitudes toward Muslims. In the news, if mentioned, Muslims are overrepresented as terrorists or extremists (Journal of Communication). And if you have ever watched any Hollywood movie that’s based in the Middle East, foreignness, uncivilized, and violent/war-torn are the major themes. This overreliance on media depictions of Muslim people results in U.S. public support of anti-Muslim policies overseas and in the country (HuffPost). 

Multiple influential anti-Muslim and anti-Islam organizations in the U.S. feed into Islamophobia and spew anti-Muslim rhetoric and misinformation (American ProgressAl Jazeera). Similar to anti-immigrant and antisemitism rhetoric, there’s a common conspiracy that Muslims are infiltrating the country and government to usurp democracy and enforce Shari law—a term like jihad that is overwhelmingly misinterpreted and politicalized in the West, thus feared and seen as violent.

“To put it plainly: thinking about violent behavior as something innately foreign is a terrific rationale for delivering violence to foreign places. It forces you to hate people and demands your loyalty to institutions designed to contravene your interests.” (Salon)

But the bigger perpetrator of Islamophobia in the U.S. is the U.S. government, which has implemented counterterrorism and law enforcement programs since 9/11 that disproportionately impact Muslims under the guise of security despite no evidence or connection to terrorist groups—unless you consider being Muslim proof—while simultaneously ignoring the threat of white supremacy.

Over a thousand were arrested and held for months for suspicion and alleged terrorist connection, with a majority only “guilty” of civil immigration violation and thus deported, or criminal fraud (AP NewsNorthjersey.com). Some were forced to sign the “Muslim registry,” which monitored and tracked people from certain high-risk countries (aka Muslim-majority countries and North Korea). Today, the community is forced to dispel these stereotypes and is still subjected to surveillance and terrorism watchlists, airport detentions, and bans because of their, or presumed, religion and ethnicity. 

Muslims continue to bear the weight of white America’s fear of violence, foreignness, and being replaced because it is easier to create a violent and daunting image of Muslims and make policies that justify this country’s actions than confront that Islamophobia is, in fact, a byproduct of America’s fundamental values. 


• In the West, Muslim, Arab, and Islam are synonymous with violence, oppression, and terrorism. 

• Before, but overwhelming since 9/11, Muslim communities have been under mass surveillance based on the belief that they’re a threat to U.S. life.

• Lack of knowledge and misrepresentation of Islamic or Arabic traditions or terms like “jihad,” feed into xenophobia and Islamophobia. 

• Muslim Americans are made to prove their Americanness against criteria fixed to disqualify.  

1920 1280 Dominique Stewart

Dominique Stewart

Dominique is a writer and editor whose interests lie within the intersections of social justice and culture.

All stories by : Dominique Stewart
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