History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymesMark Twain
I could not have anticipated that what I wrote on the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks regarding how this country really treated its Muslim population (residents and citizens alike) would be relevant again so soon. I won’t claim any special insight into the Middle East, or the latest war between Hamas and Israel–but the response of the U.S. government, U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle, U.S.-based mainstream media, and everyday citizens looks more and more familiar with each passing day.
Balbir Singh Sodhi (a Sikh, not even a Muslim) was murdered 4 days after 9/11. His killer proceeded from there on a non-fatal shooting spree against a gas station clerk (a Lebanese-American) and at his former home (previously purchased by an Afghan family local to Mesa, Arizona). Little more than a week after Hamas’ attacks on Israel, a Chicago landlord stabbed two of his Muslim tenants repeatedly, killing 6-year-old Wade Al-Fayoume.
As recounted in Spencer Ackerman’s Return to Little Pakistan, Muslims in Brooklyn began receiving business cards from agents of the FBI and INS, and NYPD officers asking to be called as soon as possible to answer questions. We would later learn that the NYPD would illegal surveil Muslims both inside and outside New York City for over a decade after 9/11, not generating a single lead that exposed any terrorists or prevented any attacks in all that time. The LAPD tried and failed to follow New York’s lead in 2007. Just one day after the Biden administration announced plans for the DOJ and DHS to partner with campus police to track hate-related threats, Ackerman reports that the ADL is urging college and university administrators to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine for “potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.”–without providing any evidence of such support from any chapter of this organization. The same organization whose Center on Extremism claims to “strategically monitor, expose and disrupt extremist threats” removed the notorious Libs of TikTok account (and Chaya Raichik, the woman behind it) from their extremism list after she threatened a lawsuit. This isn’t even the first retreat of October 2023 for the ADL, having resumed advertising on Twitter after Elon Musk threatened to sue them for defamation the month before.
To oppose the open-ended Authorization for Use of Military Force that would enable military operations in no less than 22 countries (including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and war in Iraq, and detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) was a lonely endeavor that came with death threats, insults, and hate mail. While there is almost certainly more (and growing) opposition to the IDF bombing campaign in Gaza than there was to the US invading Iraq, any sympathy at all for unarmed Palestinian civilians unaffiliated with Hamas (or any other militant group) has come with consequences like firing from jobs, revocation of job offers, threats of deportation from Donald Trump, and a Senate resolution condemning specific campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (per Ackerman’s reporting).
Our country treated the 9/11 attacks as an existential threat–a thing that could cause the U.S. to cease to exist. That mindset regarding the threat of terrorism rationalized not only the bipartisan sacrifice of civil liberties named the Patriot Act within our borders, but “a worldwide policy of detention and interrogation”, ultimately resulting in the death of innocents as explored in documentaries like Taxi to the Dark Side. As of May 2023, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay still holds 30 detainees–some still await trial, some being held indefinitely facing no charges and without recommendation for release.
The threat to Jews both worldwide and within Israel itself is very real. Anti-semitism–whether here in the U.S. or abroad–is never far beneath the surface. Not much time has passed since the former president defended neo-Nazis and others protesting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue as “very fine people”, or since the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh killed 11 and wounded 6 worshippers–including Holocaust survivors. As with the U.S. and the countries we attacked with military force in response to 9/11 however, the difference in military power between Israel and those who threaten it is substantial. Depending on which reports you read, between 5000 and 10,000 Palestinians have died in airstrikes from Israel’s military–the vast majority of those women and children. This death toll–the vast majority of them civilians–will only grow. The civilian death toll during the so-called Global War on Terror is orders of magnitude larger. Prior to the latest attacks by Hamas, Israel was holding over 1200 people in detention (virtually all Palestinians) without charges or trial. Per AP’s reporting, Israel’s military justice system is what Palestinians are subject to, not unlike the military tribunals used at the Guantanamo Bay prison to try terrorism suspects.
Unlike the U.S. military, Israel can’t leave where it is. It can change its policies and its leaders, but not its neighbors. I have no idea what the answer is to whether or not Israel and the Palestinians will ever be able to co-exist in a status other than “cold” war or hot war. But the ways Israel’s response to October 7 rhymes with the US response to September 11 probably mean we’ll be asking that question for a long time.