11 years later, how far have we come?

By Najah Farley

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. As a nation, we have seen many changes since that horrific day. Our nation began fighting the global war against terror, which is ongoing in Afghanistan. We also fought the war against terrorism on our own shores, by loosening the protections on civil liberties to allow for greater surveillance in our everyday lives. We have submitted to a multitude of changes, in particular in the areas of travel and communications. We have become accustomed to these changes, because they have been presented as the trade-off for safety.

As a member of the Muslim community, the years since 9-11 have been even more of a roller-coaster. There has been street harassment, increased scrutiny by law enforcement and as a corollary, vigilante violence. With Obama’s election, it seemed that the trajectory had changed. When the electorate rejected the McCain-Palin campaign and with it the blatant racism and prejudice it attracted, many of us hoped that there had been a referendum on the atmosphere of racism and prejudice that had been allowed to fester. We anticipated that the change in party would lead to substantive changes in the areas of civil liberties and greater tolerance for Muslims and other communities marginalized in the aftermath of 9-11, such as the Arab and South Asian communities.

However, this year has exposed a continuing erosion of the civil rights and human rights of Muslim, South Asian and Arab communities and as a result, the erosion of these rights for all Americans. The Associated Press investigation last year showed that the NYPD had conducted widespread surveillance of Muslim groups in the tri-state area, even going so far as to have agents accompany college students on camping trips and attend various religious services in order to gather intelligence.

Then, on August 5, 2012, the Oak Creek tragedy occurred, again underscoring the need for an honest conversation about racism, hate crimes and domestic terrorism in the aftermath of 9-11. Not only was the news coverage of the event lacking, there was a sense that the victims, due to their ethnicity and religion didn’t count as much, or hold as much weight in the national conversation. There were other attacks against mosques this summer as well, acts of vandalism and arson, that were targeted against a community still perceived as somehow less American.

As we now end yet another election season, it continues to be important for members of all communities, especially those that consider themselves progressive, to advocate on behalf of all communities. Even though President Obama is the best candidate for most progressives, his candidacy should still be held to the same scrutiny concerning these issues, in particular leading up to the election. The focus on supporting his campaign must also proceed with a critical eye towards how to shift the administration’s priorities, in the event of his election, to fulfill the goals of his 2008 campaign, where he promised to stop the erosion of key civil rights and civil liberties and to introduce a culture of multi-culturalism, that would allow for all persons to enjoy equal protection under the law. Because, if nothing else, this last year has shown that no matter how far we’ve come, as Americans, we still have a lot farther to go.


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