Questioned about their identity in the aftermath of 9/11, many American Muslims answered “I am American.”
Question: How did 9/11 affect American Muslims?
Barrett: It certainly had a profound effect on Muslims in this country. It required them to, I think, think much more critically and seriously about their religion and their own involvement with the religion. What does the religion mean to them? Who tells them what the religion means? How ought the religion be explained to their neighbors, to non-Muslims? Did they have something to do with the terrorists who brought this tremendous devastation on the country? Was there any connection between the two of them? Or should they be entirely swearing off any connections – saying those people by definition aren’t Muslims because of what they did. And I can go into any of that in more detail that you’d like. But one, I think, very important and somewhat counterintuitive reaction was that for many Muslims, 9/11 actually suggested to them, if not for the very first time in a very pointed way, that they considered themselves to be Americans; and that they now needed to define or redefine themselves as Americans and figure out what their connections were to this country; to realize that their connections and their involvements in this country are coming to or already have transcended or eclipsed their connections to the old country; and figure out a way to be a Muslim here, but to live here. Because they discovered they needed in one way or another to basically declare themselves . . . not in a legal loyalty oath, although some were essentially required to do that when the FBI called them in and said, “Who are you? What are you about? What are your ideas?” But even people who had no direct connection to any of the investigations that followed 9/11, I think they felt the question in the air. “Who are you? What are your loyalties? How do you sort yourself out in light of the controversy that surrounds your religion?” And that prompted many people to say, “Well you know who I am? I’m an American.” And to dig in, and even to demand their rights to say that the FBI shouldn’t be doing this, and the FBI shouldn’t be doing that. And so in an interesting way, 9/11 could in the long run – barring unforeseen future events – actually be . . . could turn out to be the opening of a door that helps advance Muslim integration in this country. It’s very counterintuitive. But as I say come back in 50 years, and I think that question will still be worth looking at.
Recorded on: 12/4/07