The long-term impact of 9/11by Roseanne Pereira, Minnesota Public Radio
Years after the 9/11 attacks, many Minnesotans say they are still feeling uneasy around one another. A new study by Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, "Voices from Silence," documents the long-term impact of 9/11 on Minnesota's immigrant, refugee, and religious minority groups. The study's findings are being spread in a number of ways.
St. Paul, Minn. — At Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, actors rehearse "From the Ashes." There are no props, the set is black. Audience members sit on stage as actors move around them, demanding answers to their questions.
"I've been in America for 20 years and I'm still not American enough. Answer!" shouts one actor.
"My husband is in jail being deported. Where do my children and I go now? Answer!" shouts another.
"From the Ashes" is inspired by a Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights report. Researchers interviewed more than 100 people in the Twin Cities, Rochester, and St. Cloud.
The report includes findings of discrimination against foreign-born people. The discrimination extended to people who simply appeared foreign, perhaps because they wore head coverings or had a darker skin color.
Laura Provinzino is the main author of the study. She believes it's important to understand how ordinary people related to one another in their every day life after 9/11.
"One Muslim woman said she's identified based on what country we're bombing at the time," says Provinzino. "Over time she's been identified as a Somali, Palestinian, Afghani. She's actually none of those, but when people ask her, she responds, I'm an American."
The report is filled with personal accounts, like what happened to Murad Mohammad and Imani Jafaar-Mohammad. They're a Muslim-American couple who grew up in the Midwest. They attended law school in Minnesota and got married. Now they're practicing attorneys in the Twin Cities.
In 2004, their neighbor began harrassing them, calling them terrorists. He even threw pork in their backyard. Murad says he'll always remember how he felt.
"It's probably the only time in my life that I was physically afraid of somebody. Especially the one evening that he confronted us in our driveway. He told us to stay on the Muslim side and stay off his Christian land," says Mohammad.
The couple got a restraining order, and the neighbor eventually moved away on his own.
Imani and Murad realize that what happened to them is hard for many people to believe, but they think it's important for Minnesotans to open their eyes to what's going on. Imani thinks Muslim women are often easy targets because of their headscarves.
"We know a woman who had a beer bottle thrown at her head while she was driving," says Jafaar-Mohammad. "We know girls who have been walking down the street and had someone pull off their headscarves. That's Minnesota! All these things have happened in Minnesota!"
Report author Laura Provinzino was surprised by the extent of what she found, even six years after 9/11.
"Without exception, all of the people we interviewed had either directly experienced some kind of discriminatory or hostile act after 9/11 or knew of people who had, and I think part of what's surprising is how little that awareness is in the majority community," says Provinzino.
And that disconnect touches everyone, says Imani Jafaar-Mohammad.
"I think that for a regular person that's not Muslim, not going through any of this, it does effect you," says Jafaar-Mohammad. "If you are walking around scared of people that you have no reason to be scared of, there's going to be a ripple effect."
The report found that many interviewees felt that people just look at them differently since 9/11. That new unease led to smaller conflicts at work, on the streets, and in the schools.
The report documents cases where non-Muslim parents thought that Muslim children wearing headscarves and praying were being provided with special advantages not afforded to their own kids.
Robin Phillips, executive director of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, believes that's why dialogue is so important. She says parents should be able to talk about their concerns without blaming or disrespecting others.
"This country is based on freedom of religion, respect for human rights and dignity for all people, and if we approach with those principles in mind, we should be able to work through all of these issues," says Phillips.
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights continues to gather testimony through submissions to their website. Community dialogues will take place after the weekend performances of Pangea World Theater's "From the Ashes."
- Morning Edition, 04/17/2007, 7:55 a.m.