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Reviewed by:
  • Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond
  • Elaine C. Hagopian (bio)
Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond, by Anny Bakalian and Mehdi Bozorgmehr. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2009. vii to 252 pages. Appendix to p. 265. Notes to p. 307. Refs. to p. 331. Index to p. 348. $21.95.

The events of 9/11 generated a set of restrictive legal constructs targeting Middle Eastern and Muslim communities in the United States. The communities already were suffering from the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. In turn, these laws generated scholarly legal studies critical of them. Until Backlash 9/11, there had been no systematic study of the impact of these laws on the affected communities and their responses.

Sociologists Anny Bakalian and Mehdi Bozorgmehr set out to develop conceptual clarity of the phenomenon of backlash and community mobilization. They also introduce religion and ethnicity —neglected by social movements, immigration, and ethnic and racial specialists —as bases for response mobilization. They have succeeded in providing a clearly defined model of backlash and community mobilization, and they have done so in a style accessible to students, researchers, and the general public.

The first chapter defines and develops a model of backlash and spells out the conditions for mobilization. The middle chapters analyze the impact of hate crimes and government initiatives. The final chapters focus on mobilization. The authors define backlash as individual acts of scapegoating and hate crimes, but its repressive nature is most deeply experienced when the state issues laws and takes actions against the affected group(s). In effect, the governmental backlash assumes the targeted group(s) to be potential fifth columnists requiring policies to pre-empt and prevent harm and threats to American society. Potentially, backlash can lead to group(s) mobilization by community based organizations, as in the 9/11 case. [End Page 516]

Traumatic as 9/11 was for the United States, the authors argue that Middle Eastern (e.g., Arab, Iranian, Afghan) and Muslim origin (those primarily identified by religion rather than ethnicity, mostly South Asians) peoples did not endure as severe a backlash as did earlier groups, such as Japanese Americans. This was due to the significant body of civil rights legislation enacted in 1964-1965 and the watchdog organizations that have emerged since. Nonetheless, the Omnibus Patriot Act, combined with the earlier secret evidence legislation, imposed harsh restrictions on the targeted communities. While techniques such as "profiling" affected citizens and non-citizens alike, the non-citizens suffered the most, especially from "voluntary interviews," detention, deportation, special registration, and rendition.

Attempting to study the impact of 9/11 government initiatives on Middle Easterners and Muslims proved challenging methodologically. After considering alternative research designs, the authors focused on identifiable community-based organization (CBOs) leaders and supportive civil rights groups. Recognizing that CBO leaders were not typical of their members, Bakalian and Borzormehr nonetheless felt that they offered knowledgeable contextual information on how events impacted their communities. They conducted 75 in-depth interviews, 60 with top Middle Eastern/Muslim CBO leaders and 15 with other informed sources. They also monitored organizational web sites and Listservs to document mobilization.

The authors' findings on mobilization stand out. The impacted groups framed their response to the suspicion and demonization of their communities within a patriotic American mainstream message, distanced themselves from the ideological bearings of the 9/11 perpetrators, and purposely sought civil and political integration into American society. Equipped with an understanding of constitutional principles and civil rights laws, they staked out their claims for equal treatment and protection. In the process, they developed skills and contacts that have introduced them as new players in American social and political life.

This book is important in several ways: It is the first comprehensive study of the impact of the 9/11 backlash on the besieged communities; it provides a framework for analysis of backlash and mobilization in times of crisis; it places the contemporary backlash in historical perspective, from the German-American experience during World War I up to the present; it provides an Appendix which chronicles the timeline of government initiatives after 9/11; and...


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pp. 516-517
Launched on MUSE
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