Arab and Muslim Civil Rights Issues in the Chicago Metropolitan Area Post-September 11

Chapter 7

Committee Observations

The Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights conducted a two-day community forum in Chicago in response to concerns Committee members had regarding testimony heard at a briefing held March 29, 2002. A community forum is an activity of a State Advisory Committee designed to elicit opinions and perspectives about civil rights matters in a local area. This report intends to be a useful gauge to monitor the attitudes and conditions regarding the Arab and Muslim communities in the Chicago metropolitan area.

In the two-day community forum held June 17–18, 2002, the Illinois Advisory Committee observed the following:

In conclusion, the Illinois Advisory Committee heard numerous concerns from members and representatives of the Arab and Muslim communities, as well as from government officials. As many participants discussed, the balancing act between national security and civil rights is delicate. In post-September 11 America, we too infrequently hear from the innocent people who many Americans have instinctively come to fear. The community forum attempted to lend an outlet for some of these voices to be heard.

Although the subject of the report dealt with the pressing civil rights issues facing the Arab and Muslim communities and the mandate of the Committee is to reveal these issues, another tale arose. Many Americans began to learn much more about Islam and their Arab neighbors after September 11. A July 2002 poll by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that 79 percent of the 945 Muslim Americans polled experienced an act of kindness or support from friends or colleagues of other faiths since the terrorist attacks. This statistic does not negate the fact that 57 percent of those same people said they experienced an act of bias or discrimination since that date.[1] Yet this former statistic, which appeared to be consistent with the testimony presented in the forum, provides hope. Likewise, it seems clear that local government officials are making genuine efforts to listen to the concerns voiced in the many forums that have been held since September 11.

Throughout the two-day forum, the Committee observed this contradiction between the Muslim and Arab communities experiencing discrimination and support. One uplifting issue was the strong interfaith community that began to develop in the aftermath of September 11. One panel included Azam Nizamuddin, representing the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago; Jonathan Levine, director of the American Jewish Committee in Chicago; and Rev. Dirk Ficca of the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions. Working together, these three men of different faiths had begun to tackle the difficult challenge of supporting, cooperating, and living peacefully together in a community. Their work on the local level sets a precedent the larger society can emulate.

[1] Council on American-Islamic Relations “Poll: Majority of U.S. Muslims Suffered Post September 11 Bias,” Aug. 21, 2002, < type=3>.