In this blog entry, Lori Peek, author of Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11, explains what prompted her to write a book about the hate crimes, discrimination, and feelings of social isolation that have marked the Muslim experience since that fateful day in 2001.
Stories matter. They matter because they are how communities and even entire societies come to understand and pass down moments of collective history.
In the aftermath of 9/11, powerful voices joined together to tell the story of the terrorist attacks. Of course, the story came in many different forms—political speeches, newspaper articles, television coverage, and so forth—but the storyline was nearly always the same. The protagonists were average, ordinary Americans. The plot focused on their shock, their grief, their anger, their national pride, and their collective solidarity.
This particular narrative is not untrue—at least in the sense that it does indeed capture how many Americans experienced 9/11. However, as I argue in Behind the Backlash, the narrative is incomplete.
I decided to write this book so that I could share the accounts of the Muslim Americans whom I interviewed in the years following the attacks. These men and women, without exception, wished to be a part of the so-called “nation united.” Instead, they found themselves on the outside, looking in. One young Muslim woman, a law student who was living in New York City on 9/11, captured the feeling perfectly: “I wanted to join those people who were volunteering downtown. … To me, that was the American community coming together and trying to do what they can. But I didn’t feel like I could, for my own safety. I wear a headscarf. I wanted to be part of that community, but I’m not really.”
Behind the Backlash documents both the visible injuries as well as the more invisible forms of suffering that Muslim Americans endured after 9/11. But that too is only part of their story. Muslim Americans also exhibited incredible strength and solidarity after 9/11, as members of the community came together to try to reassert and reclaim their faith.