Sunday, December 26, 2010

Learning To Fear: Emotionally and Sociologically Embedded

Fear comes about in various forms. Aspects in our lives that are unfamiliar and traumatic can conjure such fear and enable it to become emotionally and sociologically embedded into our day to day actions, perceptions, and attitudes. What happens when our ‘known world’ collides with a world that is seemingly unrelated to our own? What exists in our society to condition or perpetuate a discomfort from that contact with the unknown? What I want to consider, are the features of American society that have developed a fear of the Islamic faith.
The Event
On the 11th day of September 2001, The World Trade Center in New York City, was destroyed along with masses of people who were in and around the area by terrorists who hijacked two commercial airline jets. In Arlington, Virginia, the Pentagon was also attacked by terrorists associated with the al-Qaeda group. A fourth airliner crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In all, there were 3,000 victims and 19 hijackers who died and 6,000 casualties. September 11th is a very heart-wrenching date for the Americans affected and many others from different countries. With masses of fatalities, people began to unite closer and became very vigilant thereafter. This also marked a distrust in the Islamic and Muslim community all together. Looks of unmistakable unease etched the faces of countless people to those who are un-American -like. Since the event, various precautions were put into place to insure that it would not occur a second time. At the mere mention of the word “terrorist” images flash of what should be warned against.

In the aftermath of September 11th, George W. Bush implemented The USA PATRIOT Act. This Act was signed into law on October 26, 2001 mainly for the surveillance of potentially threatening conversations through different modes of communication as well as varying records. Immigrants who were suspected of terrorist affiliations were deported as a result as well. The Act had supporters and people who opposed it because of its unconstitutionality. The Act was set to sunset by the end of 2005. George W. Bush’s approval ratings increased by 90% in this year.

Initially, Americans and Muslim- Americans were helping one another and sharing each others lament. In light of September 11th, Muslim organizations in the United States made many collaborative efforts to aid those who had been affected. Organizations included: the American Muslim Alliance, Islamic Society of North America, American Muslim Council and others. Many donations and food, shelter, and medical assistance were made available to those in need. Much after the September 11th attacks, incidents of violence and harassment took place. When searching for jobs, employers thought twice about the applicant because of their name. Great resentment grew in the US. Persons who resembled Middle Eastern, Islamic, or Muslim affiliation were attacked physically, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually. Sikhs, mainly from India, were mistaken for Muslims because of the turbans they wore. Mosques, temples, and other religious buildings were attacked. Americans acted against these people on behalf of the perceptions that were developed upon viewing images of suicide bombers. The images provided a basis on which to associate one who may seem to be a terrorist or a conditioned response. President Bush often referred to people of the like to be enemies and to be fought against. Thus, upon the sight of one who matches the prototype of the individual clearly offsets fear, violent and aggressively negligent behavior. Following 9/11 America went into war with Afghanistan. Patriotism and vengeful attitudes followed people who were a part of the armed forces. Many went to fight because of revenge.
Another action that raised weariness in Americans was the increase in airport security. Airports were reminders of the hijackers therefore producing the conditioned response when someone who seems suspicious is in their presence. All persons were subjected to scrutinized searches of luggage and personal items; all for safety reasons. Those who looked like a threat, were searched twice. Through this safety measure, fear is reinforced and associated again with the event. Surveys show that 81% of travelers find flying stressful. According to Brown University, air travel decreased by over 30%. Both examples of data are post 9/11.

When plans of the construction of an Islamic center and a mosque near “ground zero” were made public, the matter received much criticism. The topic about ’America being a free country’ became a highlight in the debate. Also, renewed fears about 9/11 arose. Anti-Muslim vandalism has been appearing more frequently on the subway stations in New York City. There have also been confrontations between Muslim-American youths and non-Muslim “friends” demanding to know why a mosque was being built on ground zero. The main subject this heightens is Islamophobia. Movements that support Islam raise the disapproval of them within American culture and society. Many parts of the country face the same opposition for the expansion of mosques in fear that building more, will make America vulnerable.
Modes of Communication
Vast amounts of people show their dislike for Islam through different methods. Among these methods are: online forums, news articles regarding President Obama, newspapers (independent/political cartoons), and other forms of social media with the same beliefs. People often make comments that show their disagreement or repugnance with Islam and the Middle East. In a land where free speech is the “norm”, people who display their hatred for the Middle East do not wish to be challenged. The majority of Americans see Islam as dangerous, threatening, and wrong. They express this very clearly on web forums and discussion boards online. Many usually say that they do not trust or like Islam, Muslims, or Obama. Amongst more “popular” forms of characterizing Islam and the Middle East include animated series like: American Dad, the Simpsons, or Family Guy. These shows contain episodes that relate to the same prototypes Americans have established for Muslims. These shows reestablish the perceptions that Americans “know” too well. Women having limited rights, turbans, terrorism and other such stereotypes.

So what happens if Americans do not express why they hate or fear Islam and Muslims? When will people discuss Islam and what it means? When will people see Islam politics and the Islamic faith as two separate issues? How will this fear fade within our society and culture? Can we learn to include Muslims and Islam into our culture as easily as it is feared? For now, much opposition is accepted or not challenged.

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