On September 11, 2001, did American Muslims become America's newest race? This essay offers preliminary observations regarding that question.
Using the word “race” in America is like waving a red flag before a bull. You are likely to get a spirited response. In the context of a national calamity like the September 11, 2001 tragedy, discussing race becomes an even more delicate venture. Accordingly, to reduce prospects of confusion later, this essay begins by briefly addressing some initial concerns about even using the term “race.” The essay acknowledges that race is a complex, multilayered phenomenon. In these circumstances, do not expect these comments to provide definitive insights into the nature of “race.” Rather, because racial worldviews are so pervasive, the essay limits itself to merely attempting to give a sense of how the term “race” is used here.
After briefly dealing with some concerns about race, the essay outlines evidence that, based on what at best can be called racial stereotypes, American Muslims have been singled out for particularly egregious treatment following the September 11 tragedy. For illustrative purposes, the essay draws comparisons between the response of public officials to the September 11 and Oklahoma City bombing catastrophes. The essay then puts these matters in a slightly broader historical perspective by considering several cases which the United States Supreme Court decided in the 1930s and 1940s before and after another calamitous day in American history: December 7, 1941, when the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor. To round out the historical outline, two contrasting cases involving the jurisdiction of military commissions to try American civilians are briefly evaluated.