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Muslim Iowans Living in a Post-9/11 World

posted on September 11, 2006

One sector of the Iowa population that doesn’t need to be cautioned about sensitivity in a post 9/11 world is the state’s Muslim community. Miriam Amer is Muslim American Society Iowa Freedom Foundation Director.

Mundt: You’ve been in Iowa six years, so you moved just before 9/11. But the majority of your experience in Iowa has been shaped by what’s happened after 9/11. What has life been like here for you?

Amer: It’s been better than what it was if I’d stayed back East. Here in Iowa the people are generally more accepting, more forgiving.

My family that’s back East has suffered. One of my sisters was physically attacked. My brothers all lost their jobs. My parents were harassed, and friends up and down the seashore, they were treated fairly meanly. Here in Iowa the people have been pretty good.

There have been some incidents. My own house, we were egged. A man came after me with a knife. I don’t know who he was. He wanted to show that he was angry, and he did it quite effectively.

There have been instances where people have put things on my doorstep or harassed us by telephone. And our mosque in Cedar Rapids was shot at, a window was shot out, and we had graffiti. And other people have received harassment as well.

Mundt: Why do you think that, even though there was that kind of response, that it wasn’t as harsh as some other people experienced on the East Coast?

Amer: I think because we’re so far removed from it here. We’re in the Heartland, and that’s the East Coast. You know, people don’t really connect to New York, although we’re all Americans. You know, we feel it but not as much as someone who is in the center of it all.

Mundt: Does that mean necessarily that Iowans are more accepting of Muslim Americans or just that they were far enough removed from what happened?

Amer: I think a little of both. I think that the Muslims have been in this state for a long time. They’re part of the fabric here. They came here more than a hundred years ago, and people here know the Muslim community.

We’re part of the fabric of Cedar Rapids, the Assays and the Igrams and the Habhabs and the Sheronicks, these are all families who came here before the turn of the century, and they’re part of the society. So they’re accepted.

And I think back east -- we also have people who have been here a long time, but you’ve got a larger population and fewer people know Muslims than they do here.

Mundt: There was news that I saw in the paper recently that said more people from Muslim countries became legal permanent residents of the U.S. last year than had occurred over the previous two decades. Do you think it’s because of what the experiences are of Muslim Americans in the middle of the country compared to the experiences on the coasts?

Amer: I think there was a rush to become Americans because they wanted to be accepted. And it was the fear that if they didn’t that they would be shipped home.

A lot of them came from societies with despots and they weren’t allowed to vote. And here they realize we’ve got these freedoms, so we need to take advantage of this and become part of the society. Stop setting ourselves apart.

Mundt: Let me ask you how you feel. I would guess that you’re proud to be an American citizen.

Amer: Oh, absolutely.

Mundt: And yet, you’ve experienced things that probably none of us in this room have experienced. Things that have been very negative have happened to you. Does that strengthen your patriotism? Does it test it?

Amer: I grew up the daughter of a Marine, so nobody can test my patriotism more than my father. I grew up with him. He came here when he was two years old. His father came here before him and his father before him. And although they went back, they came back and they developed lives here. The Marine Corps has been our crutch and our strength as a family. I’ve got a brother and an uncle and a cousin who are all Marines, so don’t anybody question my patriotism.

But I think for the general population of Muslims in this country, they had to make a choice. And those who didn’t want to be part of America have left or they’re in prison.

There are a lot of Muslims here that embraced America more than they had before. They felt before that they could stay in their little communities and they wouldn’t have to be assimilated, but not they’re finding that they do need to become assimilated to, number one, stay safe, and, number two, to be accepted.


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