Muslim Americans in San Francisco Reflect on Sept. 11

September 4, 2006 at 6:20 PM EDT

SPENCER MICHELS: Nearly five years after 9/11, members of
the growing American Muslim community continue to wrestle with their place in
modern American society.

For most of them, three million to nine million, depending
on who’s counting, life is not the same as it was before.

Hatem Bazian, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who teaches about
Islam at the University of California at Berkeley,
has studied the American Muslim population, especially in the San Francisco Bay

HATEM BAZIAN, University
Of California, Berkeley: Since 9/11, I think the community
is essentially under — feels under siege. They’re in a constant state of what
I consider to be virtual internment, in the sense that the community feels
entrapped in its own mind.

It’s unable to fully be a full member of the American
society. I consider it to be that they’re Americans on probation. They’re
guilty, that they have to prove themselves innocent. They’re guilty of having
the same religion as those who undertaken the attacks of 9/11.

SPENCER MICHELS: Bazian says, he sees the arrest of Muslims
in England for allegedly
planning to blow up transatlantic airliners as adding to the siege mentality of
Muslims in America.

Politicians and the media, he said when we talked after the
plot was revealed, unfairly paint all Muslims with the same brush.

HATEM BAZIAN: The Muslims are right now are the bogeyman
that you need to be fearful of, because, if you look at the newspapers, almost
every day, there is an image and a picture and a news item. I think, on a slow
day, there’s about 10 stories that is negative toward Muslims.

There is this construct that the Muslim-American community,
as a class, is deemed to be guilty, and has to prove itself innocent.

Voices of fear and worry

SPENCER MICHELS: Bazian's contention that American Muslimscannot speak their minds, especially if they oppose American foreign policy,was endorsed by others.

MARWA ELZANKALY, Attorney: I just definitely feel like Ishould be a little bit more careful.

SPENCER MICHELS: At the Muslim Community Association Mosquein Silicon Valley, California, one of the largest in thecountry, four members talked about their own experiences as Muslims,professionally and personally, post 9/11.

Marwa Elzankaly is an attorney.

MARWA ELZANKALY: There is this sort of "You're eitherwith us or against us" mentality that has developed. And there's no graylines in between. And, so, if you're not totally with us, then, it's almost asthough, well, what you're saying is, you're really supporting the terrorists.

AMJAD OBEIDAT, Computer Engineer: When I talk to my mom, forinstance, who lives in Jordan,I often wonder if that call is being recorded by someone. There is definitely afeeling that we are a little bit more under scrutiny since September 11.

SPENCER MICHELS: Among Muslims, there is not completeunanimity.

WOMAN: I actually don't have the sense of virtualimprisonment, because I still believe in the freedom of speech. And I reallydon't feel that, if I'm to express my opinion, that I will have any negativerepercussions.

SAFAA IBRAHIM, Council on American-Islamic Relations: Theremight be another type -- terrorist attack. And I fear, really fear, theramifications of that, and what could possibly happen as a response fromAmericans as a whole.

I hear rumors about internment camps being awarded ascontacts to some companies. And I think to myself -- and they call it in a caseof an immigration emergency. And I think to myself, you know, is that going --I'm an American. But my parents emigrated to this country, and I'm afirst-generation immigrant. Am I going to be rounded up, in case of an attack Ihave nothing to do with?

SPENCER MICHELS: The civil rights officer at the Departmentof Homeland Security told the "NewsHour, "There are no suchplans," and such a roundup "could not happen."

At the Zaytuna Institute, the only training facility forMuslim spiritual leaders in the U.S.,Imam Zaid Shakir is even more fearful.

Images reinforcing stereotypes

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR, Zaytuna Institute: There is definitely alot of anti-Muslim rhetoric emanating from the radio, from various elements inthe print media. And that climate that's being created makes Muslims defensive.

SPENCER MICHELS: Shakir says, he is concerned this could bea very dangerous situation for Muslims.

ZAID SHAKIR: I hope it's not an appropriate place to talkabout genocide, but every genocidal campaign has been preceded by a mediacampaign against the people who are eventually targeted, be that in Rwanda, be that in Bosnia, be that here.

SPENCER MICHELS: Shakir, who was a Southern Baptist from Georgia, untilhe converted to Islam at age 20, has become a popular figure among AmericanMuslims.

He teaches and speaks regularly across the country. Headmits he used to preach some anti-American rhetoric of his own, but he nolonger talks like an extremist. And it wasn't just fear that made him changehis rhetoric.

ZAID SHAKIR: I think a lot of the change, in terms of toneand direction, is a simple factor of maturity, or function of maturity, becauseI think there has been a maturation process that has been going on that startedbefore September 11, and probably was catalyzed by those events.

SPENCER MICHELS: The terrorism arrests in Britain once again put terrorism against America on thefront burner.

Maha ElGenaidi, founder of Islamic Networks Group, aneducational non-profit in California's Silicon Valley, said, reaction to those events is part ofa familiar pattern.

MAHA ELGENAIDI, Founder and President, Islamic NetworksGroup: Here we go again. This is another 9/11. This is another 7/11 subwayattacks that happened in London.So, again, it reinforces Islam's association, unfortunately, with violence andterrorism.

SPENCER MICHELS: The Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, sheadded, brought up other negative and false images of Muslims.

MAHA ELGENAIDI: As far as the war in Lebanon, itreinforces the stereotype that these people are willing to risk their civilianpopulation for a senseless, mindless war, which couldn't be further from thetruth.

That war had nothing to do with the religion of Islam, hadeverything to do with politics. If you took Islam out of the equation, I thinkthe war would have happened between Hezbollah and the state of Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Let's see your walk cycles. Yes,go ahead.

SPENCER MICHELS: For Mohammed Allababidi, who teachescomputer game technology at several schools and summer camps, fanaticism andviolence in the Middle East are completelyalien to his world. Having learned his craft on his own after he emigrated fromDubai, he's nowa mainstream American and a devout Muslim.

MOHAMMED ALLABABIDI, Computer Game Instructor: It's justnuts over there. I mean, there's kidnapping. There's raid and slaughtering andthings like that. This is all not Islamic, has nothing to do with Islam.

You see the Muslims and the Sunnis and the Shia are fightingand killing each other, blowing up mosques. These are acts of people who callthemselves Muslims, but they're not following Islam.

Muslims in the spotlight

SPENCER MICHELS: Still, American Muslims are often held toanswer for what was reportedly being preached at some American mosques, Muslimfundamentalism or attacks on American foreign policy.

Court documents in a civil case allege the imam at Al Sabil(ph) Mosque in San Francisco at one point calledfor a holy war against Israeland U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and branded Shiitesagents of treason. The imam, Safwat Morsy, said the reports were incorrectlytranslated.

IMAM SAFWAT MORSY (through translator): You can't look atone instance and neglect my 10-year history in the United States. And I might saysomething at a specific time, but I could be wrong. It may be as a result of mebeing angry, but it doesn't represent my ideology at all. People say things.

There's an Islamic ruling, in general, that says, the bestof those that sin are those that repent.

SPENCER MICHELS: Being in the spotlight has also forcedMuslims to examine their own place in American society, says Maha ElGenaidi.

MAHA ELGENAIDI: Because we were asked questions "Wheredo your loyalties lie; do they lie with America or with Osama binLaden?" which is a ridiculous question.

But they were really excellent questions, because, you know,those people that may not have identified as being American, that sawthemselves as Muslims first, I think, began to see themselves asMuslim-Americans. So, that question actually helped Muslims articulatethemselves, their Americanness.

SPENCER MICHELS: After the British arrests, ElGenaidi saidshe thought American Muslims, even though stigmatized, may have it easier thanMuslims in England.

MAHA ELGENAIDI: America also has been very effective inintegrating its populations, its diverse populations, whereas, it seems to me,from what we're reading and what we're hearing, that Britain hasn't been veryeffective in assimilating and integrating its diverse populations. So, aBritisher Muslim who is second or third generation may still not be viewed astruly British by the United Kingdom.

SPENCER MICHELS: For all the turmoil among American Muslims,most see one positive result: an opportunity to teach people about theirtraditions and religion. Before 9/11, few Islamic centers had outreachprograms, but, today, almost all of them do, as American Muslims realize thattheir lives are not insulated from what others do in the name of Islam.