Reactionary Historiography: Post 9/11 Muslim Communities and Immigrants

(Featured image of American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque by Dwight Burdette)

The following is a historiography that reviews literature covering Muslim immigration and communities in the United States after the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York City, NY, USA. Because of how cut & paste into WordPress from a Word file works, you’ll find all the footnotes at the end of the page.

Books Reviewed

Abdo, Geneive Abdo. 2006. Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bilici, Mucahit. 2012. How Islam Is Becoming an American Religion: Finding Mecca in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Curtis IV, Edward E. 2009. Muslims in America: A Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. 2011. Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Hussain, Amir. 2016. Muslims and the Making of America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

McCloud, Aminah Beverly. 2006. Transnational Muslims in American Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

When the World Trade Center (the “Twin Towers”) in New York City was attacked on September 11th, 2001, many Americans were understandably shocked and angry, but they also found themselves asking, what is a Muslim? Why would they want to attack us?[1] Setting aside the problem of conflating all Muslims with terrorists, these questions revealed a vacuum of knowledge about Muslims and Islam in the United States. Further, there was a lack of understanding that Muslims were and had been a part of American society since before the United States was founded. The rhetoric that flooded popular media painted a picture of Islam vs the West[2] and reinforced the idea that there was a hard dichotomy between the two.[3] One could not be American and be Muslim, one could only be Muslim in America. Scholars from multiple disciplines saw this as an opportunity to produce literature on Muslim immigration and Muslim communities living within the United States to correct the narrative being constructed around Muslims and Islam. Because of this, much of the recent scholarship on Islam has been defensive and apologetic in nature, presenting Muslims in a way that normalizes them and introduces them as typical Americans to the rest of society. Recent scholarship has focused primarily on establishing a Muslim American identity, rather than on placing Muslim immigrants and immigration in a historical context.

According to Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a scholar on the history of Islam in America, this type of scholarship is not new. Writing in 2010, he indicates that both before and after September 11th, 2001, scholarship on Muslims in the United States has been primarily anthropological and sociological, dealing with questions of assimilation and identity formation.[4] He goes on to say that the historical studies that do exist focus primarily on African American Muslims and on how non-Muslim Americans perceive Islam.[5] Further, because of the positioning of Islam as being opposed to the West, most scholarship on Muslims in the United States has focused on how they are faring in a “foreign” society rather than on how they are actively participating in American history.[6] Much scholarship on Muslims in the US also aims to teach non-Muslim Americans about Islam to counter xenophobia and to reposition Muslims as being a part of “us”.[7] However, this focus on Muslim voices excludes the voices of other groups that have interacted with them. What I mean by this is that ethnic identity formation is both an external and internal process.[8] Muslim American identity formation occurred and continues to occur within a wider American social context. Without adding the voices of non-Muslims to the narrative, as GhaneaBassiri writes, scholars “[dim] the signifiance of the larger American Islamic socio-historical context [in] which American Muslims have [acted] for nearly four centuries.”[9] Many of the books reviewed in this paper, including Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America, which was published in 2016, fit GhaneaBassiri’s analysis of recent scholarship as being primarily focused on identity formation and assimilation. The two exceptions are McCloud and Curtis’s books.

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Weekend Adventure: The East Coast Chamber Orchestra & Rescuing Cheesecake

The Orchestra

Saturday we attended a synagogue service and ran into an acquaintance of ours who had two tickets for an orchestral performance he wasn’t going to be able to attend. He didn’t want to waste them by throwing them out, so he gave the tickets to me and my wife. I imagine he wasn’t planning on attending because of the cold. We weren’t sure we were going to go either, but we’d never seen a live orchestral performance so we figured this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Bundling up and heading back downtown after warming back up at home was a great decision!

The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool
The Announcer introducing the East Coast Chamber Orchestra at Washington Irving Highschool

It was a great experience that we’re both looking forward to repeating in the future. There’s something about hearing classical music performed live that is electrifying in a way that mp3s just can’t convey. I suppose it has something to do with the huge crowd of people all being there for the same reason, seeing the exertion and passion the artists are pouring into their playing on the stage, and experiencing the energy in the room as the crowd claps and cheers after sets.

The chamber orchestra we saw is called the East Coast Chamber Orchestra. They were performing as part of the Arens series of the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts 2013-2014 season. ECCO is a string orchestra that plays without a conductor. The member that introduced the group said they take turns leading. I’m not sure how they do that, but they managed to pull it off extremely well.

The venue itself was odd, I thought, because it was in a high school, but Washington Irving High School’s lobby and performance hall is very attractive. It has an old style of architecture that is very classy. The seats were hard though. By about halfway through I wished I’d brought a cushion. I probably should have just folded my coat and sat on that.

The best part of the concert was when ECCO performed Virtuosity: Five Microconcertos for String Orchestra. The composer, David Ludwig, happened to be in attendance so he gave an introduction to the piece. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the music was very engaging and the artists’ performance was amazing.

The concert was eye opening for me and gave me a new appreciation for classical music. I suppose I had gotten used to the idea that complex and powerful music was something that could only be achieved with computers. We’ve been in New York City for about two years now, and we kept talking about going out to do something like this, something new, but because of our routines and schedules we never quite got around to it. So, we were introduced to an amazing new form of entertaining just by chance, because someone had extra tickets and couldn’t use them. Sometime soon, we’re going to have to go see the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Animal Rescue: Saving Cheesecake

After the concert, we walked over to Veniero’s Pasticceria on 11th Street and 1st Ave. We figured, why not finish off a great night with a great dessert and some a wine? It was getting late, though, so we got our order to go and got on the train. When we got home, we put the pastries in the fridge and went out with the dog to walk him. That’s when the evening took an unexpected turn.

We were walking past the narrow little alley next to our building where the next building over stores garbage between pick-up days. There was this orange cat sitting there in the snow, crying and pacing back and forth. The opening of the alley is blocked with a steel gate. I can only imagine the cat jumped down into the alley from behind the buildings and couldn’t get out. We couldn’t just leave him stuck there. If we did, he might have frozen to death. He was so pitiful and every time we talked to him he cried even more loudly.

I got on the phone with 911, because I expected them to send animal control. I figured, even if he goes to the shelter and runs the risk of being euthanized, that’s better than the cat dying of a combination of starvation, dehydration and hypothermia.

That call didn’t go quite as planned. I grew up with this idea in my head of firemen with ladders getting cats out of trees. I thought that was probably a little naive but at the last I thought they would send an animal control person with a ladder to get over the gate and get the cat out of the alley. The 911 operator instead transferred me to a “more appropriate agency for this situation” and I was disconnected before the call went through.

So, I called 311. After explaining the situation to the operator, she tried to transfer me back to 911 via a conference call, which ended with the 911 operator asking the 311 operator if she had any sense, since animal control issues are handled by 311. For some reason, the 311 operator was trying to pass off responsibility for doing her job onto 911. I literally had to threaten to report her to a local news station and the ASPCA as letting cats die of exposure because she was too lazy to do her job before she took the call seriously and agreed to submit the report and have police sent over to address the situation.

Keep in mind this was after midnight and I was on the phone for about 30 minutes, standing in the street, with it only being about 23 degrees outside.

Right about the time she finished taking my info and was about to submit the report, the cat made a loud yowling noise and launched himself vertically at the gate and managed to catch hold of the grating and haul himself to the top. He almost fell back in, but he eventually jumped down onto the sidewalk.

Cheesecake spending the night in our travel carrier in the bathroom.
Cheesecake spending the night in our travel carrier in the bathroom.

Of course, it didn’t end there. I couldn’t leave the cat in the cold. I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. So, I called to the cat and he followed me upstairs where I put him in the bathroom of our apartment. I dug a big animal carrier we have from our international move with our cats back to the US out of the closet and put the cat in it for the night.

Today we took him to New York City Animal Care and Control. We tried to get him into a few no-kill shelters, but all of the NK shelters in NYC are not accepting cats. So, we’ll keep up with his progress and try to make sure he doesn’t get euthanized, but at least he’s not freezing to death.

Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.
Cheesecake in the NYCAC&C during his intake process.

He is a very good cat. Very well behaved. I had my gloves on, but when I picked him up he didn’t even try to fight back. He seemed very happy just to be warm and to have something to eat and drink. According to my wife, he was very behaved at the shelter as well.

When the intake person asked for the cat’s name, my wife called him Cheesecake. So, now Cheesecake is in the shelter, going through a health assessment. I hope this turns out well.

This is just a frozen strawberry and a chunk of ice I found on the sidewalk. It seemed oddly out place.
This is just a frozen strawberry and a chunk of ice I found on the sidewalk. It seemed oddly out place.

St. Paul’s Chapel and Cemetary next to the World Trade Center Site

St. Paul's Chapel and Cemetary
St. Paul’s Chapel and Cemetery

Last Thursday my wife and I went downtown to the National September 11 Memorial site. To get to it, we had to walk past St. Paul’s Chapel and Cemetery and my wife was interested in having a look around, so we went in.  I’ve been there a few times before, but it was her first time. She remembered hearing about the chapel in the news and wanted to see it first-hand.

St. Paul's Cemetery
St. Paul’s Cemetery

We walked through the cemetery first. She was impressed by how old the headstones are. I am too. It’s weird to see gravestones still erect for people that died in the 1760s next to so many buildings of modern construction. It’s so out of place. It’s nice to see that the chapel and the cemetery survived and weren’t torn down to build something new, especially in considering the important role the chapel played during the September 11th tragedy, when rescue and aid workers used the sanctuary as a place to rest and recover for a few hours before going back out to look for survivors again.

Memorial to September 11 Victims in St. Paul's
Memorial to September 11 Victims in St. Paul’s
George Washington's Pew at St. Paul's
George Washington’s Pew at St. Paul’s
Oldest painted seal of the United States
Oldest painted seal of the United States

When you walk through the chapel, it’s hard to not be touched by the memorials set up around the outer edge, artifacts left behind by people looking for loved ones mixed in with older stuff, like George Washington’s pew and what is touted as the oldest painting of the seal of the United States, which looks more like a turkey than an eagle, probably due to influence from Benjamin Franklin, who wanted the national bird to be the turkey. On a side note, it’s good that he didn’t get his way, or else what would we eat on Thanksgiving? It would be a federal crime to roast our turkeys!

Rosaries on wooden hands in St. Paul's Chapel
Rosaries on wooden hands in St. Paul’s Chapel
Rosaries on wooden hands at St. Paul's Chapel
Rosaries on wooden hands at St. Paul’s Chapel

Seriously, though, on my previous trip I never really stopped to considering and think about the people in the photos set up on the alters, or the stuff that was moved inside from where it used to be posted on the fences around the church. It’s hard to stand there and think about the people, on an individual level, that died there that day. It’s easy when you’ve only got this vague idea in your head of some 3000 people. It’s harder when you look at the photos and wonder what their life was like and who they left behind. Who cried for them? What were there final moments like? How has the event changed the lives and world views of those closest to them?

Police and Search and Rescue unit patches left behind as symbols of solidarity
Police and Search and Rescue unit patches left behind as symbols of solidarity
Sanctuary of St. Paul's Chapel
Sanctuary of St. Paul’s Chapel

The informational plaques were nice. It helped tell the story of the place. It explained why there are no pews left in the center of the building, and where all the patches on the priest’s garment (I forget the actual name of it) came from.

Pilgrimage Altar at St. Paul's Chapel
Pilgrimage Altar at St. Paul’s Chapel

I thought the “Pilgrimage Altar” was especially interesting. Is St. Paul’s a site of pilgrimage now? It’s hard to think of it that way, in the same category as Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela, or Jerusalem. But perhaps it is a place of pilgrimage in a broader sense of the word. People were encouraged to leave behind thoughts and prayers for those who perished at the nearby Trade Center site, which they did, covering the altar in notes.

St. Paul’s is an important site of remembrance that has surpassed its role as a Christian church. It is now a site of tourism and pilgrimage for people of all faiths or no faith, to remember the loss suffered by so many on that day, to contemplate how the world changed, and maybe to hope for something better in the future.

A Wall Covered With Names of the Dead in Union Square Station, New York City

Each tile on this Union Square station wall has the name of a person who died on September 11th, 2001 on it.

You may have never noticed this, but there’s a wall in Union Square station where each tile has the name of a dead person on it.  If you enter the station near Food Emporium on the corner of 14th St and 4th Ave, you have to angle off to your right after passing through the turn-styles and then head towards the N, Q, and R trains.  As you walk down the long passageway to those train lines, on the left hand side you’ll notice the tiles with the names on them.  In the photo above I was heading in the opposite direction, coming from the Q and heading towards the station exit.

Name stickers placed on tiles in Union Square station, each of a person who died on September 11th, 2001.

I somehow doubt this was done by the city, since the names are simply on stickers.  Still, it was a great effort on someone’s part to help keep the events of September 11th, 2001 in the public consciousness.  Union Square is a major station and sees a lot of foot traffic every day, which could potentially give these stickers a lot of exposure.

One of the stickers on the tiles in Union Square station, showing the name of a person who died on September 11th, 2001.

I have yet to visit the site of the former World Trade Center since I returned to New York City last September.  I suppose I should make it a point to head down there and see what sort of progress they’ve made in rebuilding the area.  The last time I was there, in May of 2008, it looked like this:

The site of the former World Trade Center, New York City, May of 2008.

Avatar Used To Justify The Belief That 9/11 Attacks in NYC Were Staged

“In September 2001, the World Trade Centre was attacked allegedly by terrorists. I am not sure now that Muslim terrorists carried out these attacks. There is strong evidence that the attacks were staged. If they can make Avatar, they can make anything,” said Dr Mahathir during his speech at the General Conference for the Support of Al-Quds here. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

For those of you that don’t know, Dr Mahathir was the Prime Minister of Malaysia from 16 July 1981 to 31 October 2003. He gave this statement, and others that will be in this entry, on January 20th, 2010.

Now that you have some background on this guy, let’s dive right into the heart of the matter. This guy is either senile, crazy, or both, but he’s most obviously a racist and should no longer be allowed to get near a reporter or microphone. How the hell can you say that because the US can make a 3D movie, we were capable of staging the September 11th attacks that killed around 3000 people? It’s absurd. Guess what, Dr Mahathir? Those holes in the ground in NYC aren’t special effects. They’re real. The people that died weren’t extras that shared a beer and laughed about the film later. They were real too. And they’re dead. Al’Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack. The last time I checked, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t the Commander in Chief.

And, as if this weren’t enough, he went on to make plenty of off-color comments about the Jewish people and Israel.

“The Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole governments to ransom.

“Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, they survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world. The Holocaust failed as a final solution,” said the outspoken Malaysian leader who was noted for his anti-Western and anti-Zionist stand while in power for 22 years, until October 2003.

Nice job projecting your racist views about Jews onto the entire European population. He seems to imply here that all Europeans wanted to get rid of the Jews all along and that, given the opportunity, would have sanctioned their mass extermination. I must have missed that page in my history book, and I certainly don’t recall World War II playing out quite that way.

The only sensible thing to come out of his mouth was what he had to say about Obama:

“Well, I am a bit disappointed because so far none of his promises have been kept. He promised to get out from Afghanistan but he ended up sending more troops there instead. He promised to close down Guantanamo but he has not closed down Guantanamo. Even other things he has not been able to do.

“It is quite easy to promise during election time but you know there are forces in the United States which prevents the president from doing some things. One of the forces is the Jewish lobby, IPAC,” he said.

I wonder why he went easy on him? It might be because he feels like Obama is a fellow Muslim being oppressed by supposed Jewish powers in Washington.  This guy’s paranoia runs deep.

There should come a point in all of our lives, famous politician, rock star, or whatever, where we realize that we’re no longer competent to speak to the public. If we can’t see it in ourselves, someone should tell us, because obviously Dr Mahathir’s time has long since come and gone.