Islamophobia Is Still Alive After September 11

On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people died in a terrorist attack on American soil, and thousands more were injured. But when discussing 9/11, it is not enough to talk about what happened that day. It is necessary to go beyond that, and talk about the repercussions that have continued to this day — including, but not limited to, the increase in hate crimes against Muslims and brown people in America. First launched in 2015 by Twitter user Jessica Talwar, the "After September 11" hashtag addresses the Islamophobia and racism that spiked following 9/11.

Last February, The Washington Post reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes were five times more common in 2015 than they were before 9/11. According to the FBI's Hate Crime Statistics, roughly 20 to 30 Islamophobic hate crimes were recorded annually in the years preceding the 9/11 attacks. But in 2001, the FBI recorded nearly 500 anti-Muslim hate crimes, and in the years since then, the annual rate of Islamophobic hate crimes has consistently been between approximately 100 and 150.

The "After September 11" hashtag reminds us that the impact of 9/11 is not restricted to the attacks themselves. Twitter users have used the hashtag to write about their experiences being Muslim, or having brown skin, in a post-9/11 America. Even 15 years after the attacks, Islamophobic sentiment has not decreased or dissipated; we've seen proof of this multiple times in just the past week.

On Saturday — just a couple days ago — a Scottish tourist dressed in traditional Muslim clothes reportedly had her sleeve set on fire in New York City's Midtown, the New York Daily News reported. And just a couple of days before that, The Telegraph reported that a woman was arrested in New York for punching and kicking two young Muslim mothers and attempting to tear off their hijabs in what was described as an unprovoked attack.

As a way to amplify the narratives of Americans who have had to routinely confront Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism, the "After September 11" hashtag responds to 9/11 tributes that render invisible the impact marginalized people have felt in the 15 years since the attacks.

Some Twitter users also used the hashtag to criticize the systems in place that privileged certain narratives over others in the aftermath of 9/11.

Last year, after the hashtag emerged for the first time, Talwar — the hashtag's creator and student at Loyola University in Chicago — emailed the Los Angeles Times to explain why sharing these stories was so important. "America needs to recognize that the trauma and repercussions of these attacks were not confined to the day of September 11, 2001 itself," Talwar wrote. "Desis, Arabs, and Muslims have felt the impact of this day for 14 years."

Talwar is right. When we talk about 9/11, we cannot afford to ignore what happened afterward — wars that targeted the Muslim world and increasing rates of Islamophobia around the world. In 2016, Donald Trump is running for president on a platform that encourages that anti-Muslim sentiment in America. Politicians in Europe, too, are espousing similar ideas; Brexit is just one example. 9/11 did not cause Islamophobia, but it certainly was a significant contributor to Islamophobic rhetoric and policy in both the U.S. and abroad. We need to pay attention to the "After September 11" narratives people are sharing, and remember just how dangerous the consequences of systemic bigotry can be.