It’s now been 14 years since a terrorist attack killed 2,977 victims and the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001. A conservative estimate of the total number of lives lost since that date in the Global War on Terror puts the number at 1.3 million dead.
If you are inclined, spend some time looking through the specifics of these casualties. Who are the dead and how did they die in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Take a few moments to click through the various links and sources. Some of the numbers conflict, others are remarkably consistent across studies. Regardless, the takeaway is that hundreds of thousands of civilians have died in this conflict in the past 14 years, something we hardly discuss.
In the U.S., the repercussions abound. We have been embroiled in controversy over the protections of our civil liberties, the costs of the wars (1.7 trillion U.S. Dollars), faulty intelligence and an overburdened Veterans Affairs administration that cannot seem to manage the care of soldiers once they return from these various wars and conflicts. We’ve also seen many, many Americans of Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage become victims of hate crimes.
The problem has been so bad that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has a section of it’s work devoted to combating the post-9/11 discriminatory backlash. They have prosecuted cases in Texas, Tennessee, Illinois, California, Minnesota, Washington D.C., Florida, Utah and Washington, among others.
Over the past 14 years there have been many cases of racist violence against American Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, South Asians, Arabs and people with Middle Eastern heritage, and those who look like they might belong to any of these communities. In 2012 in Oak Creek, Wisc., a gunman entered a Sikh temple full of worshippers and opened fire, killing 6 and wounding 4. Wade Michael Page, the shooter, was a noted White supremacist with ties to Nazi groups in the area. Last year in Missouri, 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein died after a driver intentionally plowed into him, almost severing his legs, outside the Somali Center of Kansas City. Earlier this year we saw the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC. The shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, frequently posted anti-religion quotes and cartoons on his Facebook page.
Earlier this week, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a Sikh American, was assaulted in the Darien suburb of Chicago. Mr. Mukker, a U.S. citizen and father of two, was on his way to the grocery store when a man pulled up to his car yelling racial slurs, including, “Terrorist, go back to your country, Bin Laden!” According to the Sikh Coaltion, Mr. Mukker tried to drive away from the assailant’s care but was repeatedly cut off by the driver. After pulling over to the side of the road to let him pass, Mr. Mukker was assaulted when the driver pulled in front of his car, parked in front of him, approached Mr. Mukker’s car, reached in and repeatedly punched him in the face, causing him to lose consciousness and bleed profusely. He was rushed to the hospital, where he received six stitches, treatment for lacerations, bruising and swelling. The assault broke his cheekbone.
The Sikh Coalition is pressing for hate crime charges. “Ironically wearing a turban has become a lightning rod but it signifies the exact opposite,” Mr. Mukker’s lawyer, Harsimran Kaur, said. “We hope that when people see a Sikh or meet a Sikh, they understand the purpose of maintaining the Sikh articles of faith is out of love for humanity.”
This kind of violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There is a climate of xenophobia in our country, in our institutions as well as our culture. The Bush Administration required people from South Asian and Middle Eastern countries to register with immigration authorities. After 8 years, and registering more than 93,000 Arab/Middle Eastern immigrants, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was dismantled after it wasn’t able to offer even a single terrorism related conviction. Under President Obama, the FBI is engaged in surveillance of Muslim communities. Early this year, the DOJ released guidance that bars racial profiling by federal law enforcement but carved out exceptions for national security and mapping based on race. This allows law enforcement agencies to gather information about particular communities for intelligence purposes. We need solutions, legal and cultural, to these unfair policies to change the climate of hostility toward Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities
In Texas earlier this year, a group of Muslim residents of the state gathered to meet with their legislators at the state Capitol in Austin. They were greeted by handful of protesters who shouted, “We don't want you here!” or, “Go home," "ISIS will gladly take you" and "remember 9/11." The GOP Presidential Primary has been a hotbed of anti-immigrant xenophobia, with Republican presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham saying that “Everything that starts with ‘Al’ in the Middle East is bad news.” (Al is the Arabic equivalent of “the”). In May, Donald Trump entered the fray, saying, “Christians can’t come into this country but Muslims can. What’s that all about? Something has got to be coming down from the top. People are flowing through [the border with Mexico] like water. At what point is it going to be too late?”
As it turns out, it’s too late for so many victims of Islamophobic and racist hate crimes. The many who did not survive. But today is a good day to remember that we should focus on the promise and potential in our country to challenge racist assumptions and dismantle unjust laws that foster fear.