Much has been written regarding the seemingly robust unity found in the United States of America shortly after September 11, 2001. The story of that day is well known, and ten years later those acts of terrorism are still felt by many Americans. For some Americans the pain is felt more poignantly and heart wrenchingly than for others. Still, most people have found the courage to push forward through life, to find meaning in a sunrise, to take joy in a child’s smile, and to be kind to others including strangers.

For some, however, pain has morphed into a reasonable repulsion towards all reminders of that day. For others pain has understandably been replaced by anger. And for still others, pain has sown the seeds of hatred subsequently nourished and cultivated by the ugly cousins suspicion, intolerance, and outright but unfounded bigotry. America’s once robust unity has dissolved. But this dissolution has come not through political secession. Rather America’s unity has faltered through institutionalized prejudice manifest not just in political speeches, media reports, and public statements but also in the private conversations of her citizens.

In theory it is one thing to declare war on a country but it is quite another thing for a country to declare war on a religion or a culture. America’s military actions in the Middle East were specifically declared to be not a war on “Islam” but rather a “war on terror”. Indeed the war America currently wages in the Islamic countries of Afghanistan, and Iraq arguably stems from President Bush’s catalytic “war on terror” launched after 9/11 and continues with President Obama’s “enduring struggle against terrorism.” War efforts against Libya and the saber rattling towards Iran are likewise couched in similar national security, anti-terrorism terms.

Yet what makes sense in theory does not always translate into practical, real life effect. In fact ten years after the war on terror began and a new administration later U.S. leaders continue to reassure the world that “the U.S. never has nor will be in a war against Islam.” But in spite of what U.S. leaders may say, these reassurances do not necessarily quell the Middle Eastern belief that “America believes that it was attacked by Islam and thus… declared war on Islam” and “entered into a war with Islam itself.” Support for this viewpoint comes both from President Bush’s initial use of the term “crusade” and also from the perception that the U.S. is actively seeking to “weaken and divide the Islamic world” in order “to weaken Islam as a religion so that it will not grow and challenge the western way of life.” Clearly the theoretically clean-cut concept of war declarations against countries or “terror” is not always divorced from the notion of war on religion and culture. And while the war on terror with its numerous fronts and arbitrary battle lines may differ from previous wars in U.S. history, there still remain the ever-present challenges and ideological battles of the home front. Indeed, it is not just citizens of the Middle East who believe the U.S. is at war against Islam. In one degree or another this belief is also held at home.

Continue Reading—

by Elijah Nielson

Elijah Nielson, J.D. L.L.M. M.S.W., is a graduate of Pepperdine Law's Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution LLM program.