On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Hussam Ayloush found himself at square one. The Corona resident was one of the founders of the Southern California Council on American Islamic Relations, and had spent years working to clarify misperceptions about Islam.

Before Sept. 11, some people knew about Islam and respected it, he said, but those who didn’t, didn’t feel it affected them.

Before Sept. 11, Ayloush said, “Muslims were misunderstood, but not feared.”

Then, on Sept. 11, 2001, four airplanes were hijacked by extremists; one crash landed in the fields of Pennsylvania, one destroyed part of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and two flew into the World Trade Center twin towers, leveling the architectural wonders and killing thousands.

“I think America passed a test that many countries wouldn’t have passed,” Ayloush said. “People took a deep breath, and didn’t say, ‘Kill Muslims.”

He admitted there were shows of violence — some mosques were vandalized and Muslims attacked — but, in other countries, he said, the reaction would have been much more savage.

Ayloush said America’s shift was a more subtle, psychological change.

“There’s no doubt that there is a minority of Muslim extremists with a very narrow interpretation and it’s also rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims,” Ayloush said. “Here are (also) ideological or political extremists in America who speak in the same language and who fuel the concept of a clash of civilization.”


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