|Originally Aired: September 4, 2006
Muslim Americans in San Francisco Reflect on Sept. 11
|First in an ongoing series on the impact of 9/11 on life in the United States, Spencer Michels talks with members of the American Muslim community in San Francisco.|
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 Muslims
cannot speak their minds, especially if they oppose American foreign policy,
was endorsed by others.
MARWA ELZANKALY, Attorney: I just definitely feel like I
should be a little bit more careful.
SPENCER MICHELS: At the Muslim Community Association Mosque
in Silicon Valley, California, one of the largest in the
country, 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 either
with us or against us" mentality that has developed. And there's no gray
lines in between. And, so, if you're not totally with us, then, it's almost as
though, well, what you're saying is, you're really supporting the terrorists.
AMJAD OBEIDAT, Computer Engineer: When I talk to my mom, for
instance, who lives in Jordan,
I often wonder if that call is being recorded by someone. There is definitely a
feeling that we are a little bit more under scrutiny since September 11.
SPENCER MICHELS: Among Muslims, there is not complete
WOMAN: I actually don't have the sense of virtual
imprisonment, because I still believe in the freedom of speech. And I really
don't feel that, if I'm to express my opinion, that I will have any negative
SAFAA IBRAHIM, Council on American-Islamic Relations: There
might be another type -- terrorist attack. And I fear, really fear, the
ramifications of that, and what could possibly happen as a response from
Americans as a whole.
I hear rumors about internment camps being awarded as
contacts to some companies. And I think to myself -- and they call it in a case
of 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 a
first-generation immigrant. Am I going to be rounded up, in case of an attack I
have nothing to do with?
SPENCER MICHELS: The civil rights officer at the Department
of Homeland Security told the "NewsHour, "There are no such
plans," and such a roundup "could not happen."
At the Zaytuna Institute, the only training facility for
Muslim spiritual leaders in the U.S.,
Imam Zaid Shakir is even more fearful.
Images reinforcing stereotypes
IMAM ZAID SHAKIR, Zaytuna Institute: There is definitely a
lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric emanating from the radio, from various elements in
the print media. And that climate that's being created makes Muslims defensive.
SPENCER MICHELS: Shakir says, he is concerned this could be
a very dangerous situation for Muslims.
ZAID SHAKIR: I hope it's not an appropriate place to talk
about genocide, but every genocidal campaign has been preceded by a media
campaign 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, until
he converted to Islam at age 20, has become a popular figure among American
He teaches and speaks regularly across the country. He
admits he used to preach some anti-American rhetoric of his own, but he no
longer talks like an extremist. And it wasn't just fear that made him change
ZAID SHAKIR: I think a lot of the change, in terms of tone
and direction, is a simple factor of maturity, or function of maturity, because
I think there has been a maturation process that has been going on that started
before September 11, and probably was catalyzed by those events.
SPENCER MICHELS: The terrorism arrests in Britain once again put terrorism against America on the
Maha ElGenaidi, founder of Islamic Networks Group, an
educational non-profit in California's Silicon Valley, said, reaction to those events is part of
a familiar pattern.
MAHA ELGENAIDI, Founder and President, Islamic Networks
Group: Here we go again. This is another 9/11. This is another 7/11 subway
attacks that happened in London.
So, again, it reinforces Islam's association, unfortunately, with violence and
SPENCER MICHELS: The Israeli-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, she
added, brought up other negative and false images of Muslims.
MAHA ELGENAIDI: As far as the war in Lebanon, it
reinforces the stereotype that these people are willing to risk their civilian
population for a senseless, mindless war, which couldn't be further from the
That war had nothing to do with the religion of Islam, had
everything to do with politics. If you took Islam out of the equation, I think
the war would have happened between Hezbollah and the state of Israel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Let's see your walk cycles. Yes,
SPENCER MICHELS: For Mohammed Allababidi, who teaches
computer game technology at several schools and summer camps, fanaticism and
violence in the Middle East are completely
alien to his world. Having learned his craft on his own after he emigrated from
Dubai, he's now
a mainstream American and a devout Muslim.
MOHAMMED ALLABABIDI, Computer Game Instructor: It's just
nuts over there. I mean, there's kidnapping. There's raid and slaughtering and
things like that. This is all not Islamic, has nothing to do with Islam.
You see the Muslims and the Sunnis and the Shia are fighting
and killing each other, blowing up mosques. These are acts of people who call
themselves Muslims, but they're not following Islam.
Muslims in the spotlight
SPENCER MICHELS: Still, American Muslims are often held to
answer for what was reportedly being preached at some American mosques, Muslim
fundamentalism 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 called
for a holy war against Israel
and U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and branded Shiites
agents of treason. The imam, Safwat Morsy, said the reports were incorrectly
IMAM SAFWAT MORSY (through translator): You can't look at
one instance and neglect my 10-year history in the United States. And I might say
something at a specific time, but I could be wrong. It may be as a result of me
being angry, but it doesn't represent my ideology at all. People say things.
There's an Islamic ruling, in general, that says, the best
of those that sin are those that repent.
SPENCER MICHELS: Being in the spotlight has also forced
Muslims to examine their own place in American society, says Maha ElGenaidi.
MAHA ELGENAIDI: Because we were asked questions "Where
do your loyalties lie; do they lie with America or with Osama bin
Laden?" 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 saw
themselves as Muslims first, I think, began to see themselves as
Muslim-Americans. So, that question actually helped Muslims articulate
themselves, their Americanness.
SPENCER MICHELS: After the British arrests, ElGenaidi said
she thought American Muslims, even though stigmatized, may have it easier than
Muslims in England.
MAHA ELGENAIDI: America also has been very effective in
integrating 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 very
effective in assimilating and integrating its diverse populations. So, a
Britisher Muslim who is second or third generation may still not be viewed as
truly British by the United
SPENCER MICHELS: For all the turmoil among American Muslims,
most see one positive result: an opportunity to teach people about their
traditions and religion. Before 9/11, few Islamic centers had outreach
programs, but, today, almost all of them do, as American Muslims realize that
their lives are not insulated from what others do in the name of Islam.
||Muslim Americans in San Francisco Reflect on Sept. 11