Combating Post-9/11 Discrimination
with Dr. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute
Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and South-Asian Americans faced bias crimes and incidents of discrimination.
Dr. James Zogby, Founder and President of the Arab American Institute, joins host Tetiana Anderson to explore what life was like in the months and years following 9/11, and how these communities have worked to overcome discrimination.
August 31, 2021
Anderson: After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian racism surged with upticks in violence and hate crimes due to the false notion that those of Asian descent are to blame for the virus. Twenty years ago after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and South Asian Americans were similarly targeted. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. While all Americans suffered the shock of the 9/11 attacks, those of Arab descent also had to contend with suddenly living under suspicion. Joining me to talk about the Arab American perspective today, 2 decades after 9/11, is Dr. James J. Zogby. He is the cofounder and president of the Arab American Institute, and, Dr. Zogby, thank you so much for joining us.
Zogby: Thank you.
Anderson: So, Dr. Zogby, 9/11 was clearly an inflection point for the whole nation and also for the world. What happened within that community the second those first planes hit the towers?
Zogby: 9/11 was quite painful for all of us as Americans, and I'll never forget seeing the second plane going into the building. I'll never forget the look on the face of a woman who stopped me on the street saying, "Did you hear? My father was in the building. Do you know what's going on?" and I didn't. And the general fear of being an American and watching thousands die at the hand of terrorists, but no sooner did we feel that fear than the death threats started coming, and what angered me about it was that I wanted and needed to mourn like the rest of America, but I got pulled away from the mourning because I had to look over my shoulder. Three people went to jail after 9/11 for threatening my life. Hundreds and hundreds we logged cases of employment discrimination, housing discrimination. The number of people deported in most instances for no reason at all was staggering, and families broken up, people living in fear and in hiding. Law enforcement behaved badly, frankly. Customs, border patrol behaved badly. We faced the problem both of discrimination in the general public, but we also had the additional problem of the Ashcroft Justice Department profiling and targeting people of Arab descent with no tie to terrorism at all, just because it was... We called it flying while Arab or, you know, walking or shopping while Arab. I mean, it was really a traumatic, traumatic period.
Anderson: To that end, I'm glad that you brought up what was going on because at the time President Bush even spoke out on behalf of Muslims, on behalf of Arabs. He actually said, quote, "The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is the radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them." Why do you think that statement wasn't enough to quell the backlash that you just talked about?
Zogby: It actually did quell the public backlash, but the problem was that while George Bush was saying the right thing, his Department of Justice was doing the wrong thing, and that perpetuated the problem and instilled in people this fear.
Anderson: So fast forward to today, I mean, we're still dealing with this, right? We recently had something called the Muslim ban that was later rescinded. Are we at another inflection point in the United States when it comes to Arab Americans, and where do you see things going?
Zogby: Well, things are much better today than they ever were. Look, as a result of the rhetoric of this past administration, in polling that we do, American attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims are much better than they ever were. The difference is the partisan divide. Democrats in reaction have gone sky... through the roof in terms of favorable attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims. Republicans on the other hand have gone completely in the opposite direction, so we have a partisan problem right now, and that is a concern that obviously is worrisome because it does you no good if half the country hates you and the other half is willing to protect you. It's better to be in a position where either everyone is protecting you or people just don't care and they're leaving it alone, but we do have a partisan problem on this. There's just no question about it at all.
Anderson: And I know that your institute does a lot of work in this area. If people want to know more, is there a website that they can go look at?
Zogby: Sure. It's aaiusa.org, and you can follow us on Twitter @AAIUSA.
Anderson: Dr. James Zogby, thank you so much for joining us.
Zogby: Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.