Homeland Insecurity

Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11

Louise A. Cainkar
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    Homeland Insecurity
    Book Description:

    In the aftermath of 9/11, many Arab and Muslim Americans came under intense scrutiny by federal and local authorities, as well as their own neighbors, on the chance that they might know, support, or actually be terrorists. As Louise Cainkar observes, even U.S.-born Arabs and Muslims were portrayed as outsiders, an image that was amplified in the months after the attacks. She argues that 9/11 did not create anti-Arab and anti-Muslim suspicion; rather, their socially constructed images and social and political exclusion long before these attacks created an environment in which misunderstanding and hostility could thrive and the government could defend its use of profiling. Combining analysis and ethnography, Homeland Insecurity provides an intimate view of what it means to be an Arab or a Muslim in a country set on edge by the worst terrorist attack in its history. Focusing on the metropolitan Chicago area, Cainkar conducted more than a hundred research interviews and five in-depth oral histories. In this, the most comprehensive ethnographic study of the post-9/11 period for American Arabs and Muslims, native-born and immigrant Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Yemenis, Sudanese, Jordanians, and others speak candidly about their lives as well as their experiences with government, public mistrust, discrimination, and harassment after 9/11. The book reveals that Arab Muslims were more likely to be attacked in certain spatial contexts than others and that Muslim women wearing the hijab were more vulnerable to assault than men, as their head scarves were interpreted by some as a rejection of American culture. Even as the 9/11 Commission never found any evidence that members of Arab- or Muslim-American communities were involved in the attacks, respondents discuss their feelings of insecurity—a heightened sense of physical vulnerability and exclusion from the guarantees of citizenship afforded other Americans. Yet the vast majority of those interviewed for Homeland Insecurity report feeling optimistic about the future of Arab and Muslim life in the United States. Most of the respondents talked about their increased interest in the teachings of Islam, whether to counter anti-Muslim slurs or to better educate themselves. Governmental and popular hostility proved to be a springboard for heightened social and civic engagement. Immigrant organizations, religious leaders, civil rights advocates, community organizers, and others defended Arabs and Muslims and built networks with their organizations. Local roundtables between Arab and Muslim leaders, law enforcement, and homeland security agencies developed better understanding of Arab and Muslim communities. These post-9/11 changes have given way to stronger ties and greater inclusion in American social and political life. Will the United States extend its values of freedom and inclusion beyond the politics of “us” and “them” stirred up after 9/11? The answer is still not clear. Homeland Insecurity is keenly observed and adds Arab and Muslim American voices to this still-unfolding period in American history.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-768-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the Author
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    The title for this book emerged from research data showing that during the three years following the attacks of September 11, 2001, a majority of Arab Muslim Americans reported feeling unsafe and insecure in the United States.¹ This sense of insecurity, which was not only articulated in narratives but was palpable, was an outcome of their treatment by the American government and some members of the American public and by portrayals of them in the mainstream American media, which proffered constructions of reality that repeatedly supported notions of the collective culpability of Arab and Muslim Americans for the attacks. Throughout...

  6. Chapter 2 Little Is Monolithic: Five Oral Histories
    (pp. 23-63)

    The following oral histories take readers in-depth into the lives of eight Arab American Muslims: four members of an Arab American family and four individuals, two of them men and two of them women. Three of the interviewees were born in the United States, one immigrated as a young child, and the rest were adult immigrants. Their roots are Egyptian, Palestinian, Iraqi, and Yemeni, and they were selected to represent some of the diversity of national origins among Arab Americans in metropolitan Chicago. Corresponding to the residential patterns associated with these identities, two of them live in Chicago’s southwest suburbs,...

  7. Chapter 3 The Social Construction of the Arab (and Muslim) American
    (pp. 64-109)

    The negative post-9/11 experiences described by Arab Muslims in the research interviews as chilling, destabilizing, and even frightening were set in motion by social constructions of their relationship to the attacks, not by the attacks alone. When allegations (examples of which are provided in this book) were made inferring that Arabs and Muslims living in the United States were a potentially collaborative fifth-column population, many in the United States accepted such claims as credible because they were built on social constructions that were in place well before the events of 9/11 appeared to lend credence to them. Those who posited...

  8. Chapter 4 Whose Homeland Security?
    (pp. 110-152)

    Attorney general John Ashcroft’s declaration that “the world will never be the same” was a prescient script for the American government’s actions after the 9/11 attacks, whether in the United States, the Arab and Muslim worlds, or other outposts of the global “war on terror.” In the United States, the notion that terrorists were hiding in American communities just waiting to attack, living undercover lives that had public veneers of normalcy, provoked fear in the hearts of Americans and cast an air of suspicion on Arab and Muslim Americans. Government statements were clear in their directives: “The federal government cannot...

  9. Chapter 5 The Security Spotlight and the Conduct of Everyday Life
    (pp. 153-189)

    The government’S measures directed at Arab and Muslim American communities were conducted with widespread public acquiescence, if not approval, according to the opinion poll data cited in previous chapters, although in the context of organized dissent. Public consent was built to a significant degree on fears that another attack might occur, perpetrated by terrorist sleeper cells hiding within Arab and Muslim American communities. This narrative was articulated more than once by U.S. government officials, who actually knew very little about who and what they were dealing with. Popular consent for aggressive collective policies was also built on the successful leveraging...

  10. Chapter 6 Hate Acts, Local Mobilizations, and the Crisis Point
    (pp. 190-228)

    In general, the safety of Arabs and Muslims on the American street was fragile for a few years after the 9/11 attacks, although some persons were more vulnerable to hate encounters than others and some places presented more risk than others. Risk of death was highest in the first few weeks after the attacks, but over time hate actions directed against Arabs and Muslims were more likely to be minor assaults, verbal harassment, or vandalism. Although the statistical likelihood of being physically harmed or murdered was actually low, examined from a post facto perspective, an Arab/Muslim’s personal assessment of risk...

  11. Chapter 7 Gendered Nativism, Boundary Setting, and Cultural Sniping: Women as Embodiments of the Perceived Cultural Threat of Islam
    (pp. 229-262)

    In chapter 6, I argued that the 9/11 attacks constituted a trigger event for the open expression of animosity toward Arab and Muslim Americans living in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, a sentiment that had been building long before the attacks and was related to perceptions associated with their increasing presence in the area. I compared the southwest suburbs to the southwest side of the city, also a place of significant Arab and Muslim American presence, and pointed out that hate actions in the urban area subsided after an initial post-9/11 flare-up, signaling a cleaner, more direct relationship between the...

  12. Chapter 8 Conclusion: Insiders/Outsiders in America
    (pp. 263-280)

    Upon final analysis, the post-9/11 experience for Arab and Muslim Americans reveals a paradoxical historical moment. At the same time as members of these groups have since 9/11 experienced extensive institutional discrimination, government targeting (mainly focused on men), and public attacks (largely focused on women and Islamic religious institutions), they have also experienced enhanced civic inclusion. Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, their organizations and institutions, have become visible players in the American public square to a greater degree than at any previous time in American history—with the significant exception of African American Muslims, who have a decades-long history of...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 281-296)
  14. References
    (pp. 297-310)
  15. Index
    (pp. 311-328)