How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Q&A: A Los Angeles Muslim community leader on the damage bin Laden caused U.S. Muslims

Salam Al-Marayati, photo courtesy of MPAC

The terrorist attacks orchestrated by Osama bin Laden affected all Americans, but they affected American Muslims in a unique way. One of the groups that has called for greater tolerance in the face of anti-Muslim sentiment and tried to clear up misperceptions is the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which has offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The group's president, Salam Al-Marayati, addressed via e-mail today a few questions relating to the damaging effects that bin Laden's actions had on Muslims in this country, and what the future may hold now that he's gone.

M-A: The attacks of 9/11 affected everyone, but can you tell me in particular how these actions changed the way in which American Muslims live during this past decade?

Al-Marayati: We have many young Muslims who have either grown up with 9/11 impacting their identity or were born after 9/11. As a result, our image in the U.S. is dependent on the perception of how secure our nation is. With more insecurity comes anti-Muslim sentiment.

M-A: Do what degree do U.S. Muslims (and others, such as Sikhs) live in fear today as a result?

Al-Marayati: I wouldn't say fear is a driver, but more alienation and psychological ghettoization.

M-A: How have Muslims been affected not only by policies such as the Patriot Act, but by public perceptions and/or discrimination?

Al-Marayati: Tremendously, since it only reinforces the perception that Muslims are a problem in our society, either a victim or a villain.

M-A: Do you think that the death of bin Laden will have any effect, or do you think this community will subject to more of this for some time still?

Al-Marayati: We hope it is the mark of an end to a dark era and an ushering in of a new era for mutual understanding in U.S.-Muslim world relations. With the rise of democracy in the Middle East and the descent of Al-Qaeda, there is an opportunity for partnership between people in the Muslim world and in the U.S. We can't expect our governments to address issues involving culture and religion. It involves people-to-people dynamics.

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With bin Laden gone, do U.S. Muslims have a reason for hope?

Photo by Steven Cuevas/KPCC


Throughout the day, Muslim and Middle Eastern community leaders around the country have been coming forward to express relief over the death of Osama bin Laden yesterday during a targeted mission by U.S. forces in Pakistan. Some have also expressed a sense of hope.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, orchestrated by bin Laden, set off a chain reaction that to this day has left American Muslims reeling, from an early hate crime wave to anti-mosque protests to, just recently, a House hearing on the "extent of radicalization" among Muslims in the United States.

Several of those quoted today expressed optimism that bin Laden's death will mark a turning point for the larger U.S. Muslim community, much of it composed of immigrants, that for several years now has felt misunderstood and under scrutiny.

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Five ways in which Osama bin Laden changed the immigration landscape

Photo by Romel Jacinto/Flickr (Creative Commons)


The direct and indirect repercussions that the late Osama bin Laden's actions in masterminding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have had on the agencies, policies and attitudes affecting immigrants in the United States are far too many to mention in a short list. The attacks led to the dissolution of the federal immigration infrastructure at the time, to several legislative and policy changes, and to an increasingly enforcement-heavy and divisive immigration climate.

Here are a few of the major changes:

1) The end of INS, the beginning of DHS: Criticism of the decades-old Immigration and Naturalization Service, after it it was discovered that some of the 9/11 hijackers were here on visas that shouldn't have been granted, led to the end of the INS in early 2003. The agency, which at the time governed all immigration functions from visas to border security, was replaced by the much broader Department of Homeland Security. Three sub-agencies within DHS were given authority over immigration matters: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (overseeing customs and border security, including the U.S. Border Patrol); U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, overseeing functions such as naturalization and the granting of legal residency; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, which is responsible for immigration enforcement in the United States, oversees immigrant detention and deportation, and is responsible for enforcement policies such as Secure Communities and 287(g).

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