Attorney Alamdar Hamdani used to represent multimillion-dollar corporations. Now Hamdani represents cab drivers and convenience store owners who are called in for questioning by the FBI.
Nohayia Javed was a college student who never thought of herself as different from her classmates. Then Javed was beaten up and had hot coffee thrown in her face.
Many lives changed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But Muslim-Americans say that as a group, the change for them has been dramatic, generally negative and certainly long-lasting. Overnight they became an enemy in their own country.
How this played out for individuals is as varied as the Muslim-American community itself. The 6 million people who practice Islam – 3 percent of whom live in Texas – are American-born and immigrants; they’re converts and those born to Muslim families; they’re Democrats, Republicans and independents; they’re neurosurgeons, waiters, CEOs and firefighters.
The backlash has primarily been focused on those with ancestries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“We feel embarrassment, frustration, anger on a daily basis,” said Farha Ahmed, general counsel for the Muslim American Republican Caucus, at a recent symposium on racial profiling at the University of Houston Law Center.
Ninety-nine percent of Islam’s adherents are nonviolent, said Ahmed, a Libyan-American, but “that doesn’t seem to be enough.”
Hamdani realized the day of the attacks that there would be a backlash against fellow Muslims. So he joined the American Civil Liberties Union and started representing, pro bono, people who were being detained or questioned by the government.
It’s one thing for the general public to look at Muslims with a jaundiced eye, said Hamdani, 34, an American citizen raised by Indian parents. It’s something else for the government to do that.
“Just because I worship a god named Allah doesn’t mean the 1st, 4th, 5th amendment doesn’t apply,” Hamdani said, citing the rights to free association and speech, against unreasonable search and seizure, and to due process.
Houston FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap said her agency’s work in the Muslim community benefits both sides and resolves questions. . .
Muslim-Americans point to one positive consequence: 9-11 has made them become more active in the public sphere. More Muslims now work in politics and the armed services. Organizations like the Council on American Islamic Relations have stepped up their efforts in educating the public, media, government and law enforcement agencies about Islam, as well as registering Muslims to vote. And, of course, more Muslims are active in civil liberty issues.