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How Muslim-American identity has been shaped by 9/11 and its after effects

Behind the Backlash

Muslim Americans after 9/11

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Lori Peek

Best Book Award from the American Sociological Association's (ASA) section on Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity, 2013

Midwest Sociological Society Distinguished Book Award, 2012

"One of the most devastating effects of a widespread disaster is its ability to create shifts in the prevailing cultural climate of an entire countryside and to change the way the various peoples of the countryside relate to each other. Behind the Backlash is a compelling, perceptive, and sensitively drawn portrayal of what happened to Muslim Americans, among the most loyal of national groups, when the dark shadow known as 9/11 passed over our land. A truly important study."
—Kai Erikson, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and American Studies, Yale University

As the nation tried to absorb the shock of the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans were caught up in an unprecedented wave of backlash violence. Public discussion revealed that widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam persisted, despite the striking diversity of the Muslim community.

Letting the voices of 140 ordinary Muslim American men and women describe their experiences, Lori Peek's path-breaking book, Behind the Backlash presents moving accounts of prejudice and exclusion. Muslims speak of being subjected to harassment before the attacks, and recount the discrimination they encountered afterwards. Peek also explains the struggles of young Muslim adults to solidify their community and define their identity during a time of national crisis.

Behind the Backlash seeks to explain why blame and scapegoating occur after a catastrophe. Peek sets the twenty-first century experience of Muslim Americans, who were vilified and victimized, in the context of larger sociological and psychological processes. Peek’s book will be of interest to those in disaster research studies, sociology of religion, and race and ethnic relations.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"While relating the stories of Muslims struggling for acceptance in America in the wake of 9/11, Behind the Backlash offers analytic insights that demonstrate many of the social dynamics at work in Muslim marginalization and traumatization, as well as in their constructive responses. What Peek describes has important implications for all Americans concerned for minority groups that suddenly become suspect."
Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University; coauthor of Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy

"In Behind the Backlash, Lori Peek weaves together the voices of American Muslims who tell of life lived in a post-9/11 world with the demagoguery of the media, official reports, and history. Her finished tapestry is a compelling dialogue between the human experiences of bigotry and the abstract forces that drive it. Behind the Backlash challenges each of us to reexamine the importance of tolerance in a civilized society. This book will be widely read and discussed. Bravo."
Steve Kroll-Smith, Editor of Sociological Inquiry; Professor of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

"Peek’s research ended before the most recent public campaigns against Muslims, but this does not diminish the value of her work as she seeks to explain how and why vilification and scapegoating of a minority intensifies after a major catastrophe. VERDICT: This is a book that should be read by all concerned Americans as well as students of ethnic relations."
Library Journal

"In this savvy, research-based book, sociologist Peek (Colorado State Univ.) reports on interviews with Arab and South Asian Muslim Americans conducted after the 9/11 attacks. Peek provides an excellent introduction to the oppressive realities these Americans face, including sharp increases in hate crimes and illegal government spying after 9/11.... This important book counters many US myths about Muslim Americans, their origins, and their life experiences. It makes them 'come alive' as important US residents seeking to counter 'othering' by fellow Americans....Summing Up: Highly recommended."
Choice

"What Peek ha[s] accomplished...is a pedagogical feat: [she has] taken topics that are certainly not dinnertime conversation and ha[s] woven such intricate tapestries of the social construction and framing of experience (whether positive or negative, scrutinized or ignored) that the reader comes away with a cogent understanding of the impact of the backlash of disaster on an underrepresented and socially ‘misconstructed’ ethnic group in the United States (Muslim Americans), the contribution of such an analysis to the study of technological disasters (under which terrorism is subsumed), and a quick course in how ethnographic research should be done. If it were up to me, Peek’s Behind the Backlash would be required reading for every student of sociology and of disasters."
Sociological Inquiry

"This is an intensely personal work of scholarship....[It] provides an important window into the hearts and minds of the Muslims among us. It will be much appreciated by scholars of disaster response as well as social scientists interested in the experience of minority populations."
The International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters

"Behind the Backlash addresses the issue of Muslim American backlash in a post 9/11 environment through the use of a strong and clear thesis that explicates the public and political exclusion faced by Muslim Americans before and particularly, in the aftermath of 9/11....This study is significant because it provides outstanding and relevant insight into the public and political reaction to crisis events and the subsequent marginalization of members of society due to catastrophes beyond their control. Peek's research is also important...[she] provides the reader with testimonials that are compelling and invaluable to an understanding of the human and societal components and consequences resulting from crisis events. Lori Peek's work is insightful...[i]t enhances the reader's awareness of the lived experiences of sectors of society who are impacted by resulting societal and political scapegoating."
Social Science Journal

"[A] well-researched, thoughtful examination of how processes of postdisaster backlash heighten social boundaries, despite both popular and scholarly assumptions of solidarity after disaster.... One highlight of Peek’s analysis is her sensitive consideration of the impact of 9/11 backlash on respondents who are less 'visibly Muslim.'...[The book] is engagingly written and often powerful."
Sociology of Religion

"Lori Peek’s fascinating book listens to the voices of 140 Muslim-Americans who were subjected to discrimination and harassment both before and after the attacks.... Peek takes these specific instances and weaves them into a narrative of scapegoating and blame after a disaster that will inform discussions about religion, race relations, and disaster research."
Natural Hazards Observer

"Expertly organizing data from in-depth interviews of 140 Muslim Americans conducted soon after September 11, Peek provides a compelling and intimate look at members of a community struggling with events that suddenly overtook their lives. Throughout, Peek demonstrates great skill as a researcher and writer.... The book's main contribution is its first-hand accounting of Muslim Americans' experiences with, and efforts to cope with, prejudice after September 11.... Behind the Backlash demonstrates the value of systematic qualitative work in the social sciences. By allowing her participants to speak in their own voices and then by engaging in the arduous work of integrating those many perspectives, Peek offers tremendous insight into the Muslim American experience in the wake of September 11."
Political Science Quarterly

"Behind the Backlash not only documents the impact of backlash, it also illuminates how 9/11 became the turning point in Muslim American experiences. As we enter the second decade since the attacks, this will be an important study for scholars seeking to understand what lies ahead for Muslims living in the United States."
American Journal of Sociology

"[The book]is most useful as a compilation of firsthand accounts of young Muslim Americans’ experiences after 9/11. The fact that Peek was able to begin interviewing her respondents so soon after the attacks provides a window into the raw feelings of a population experiencing sudden scapegoating and discrimination and the sometimes surprising ways in which they dealt with and responded to this backlash."
Contemporary Sociology

"[A]n accessible, well-written exploration of the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, focusing specifically on how members of the Muslim American community felt and coped with the backlash that followed the attacks.... Peek does a good job of telling a story we all already know without sensationalizing or falling prey to popular inflammatory rhetoric. The most compelling part of the text comes from the voices of the Muslim Americans themselves.... On the whole, this is a strong, sociological study, well-researched, easy to read, recommended for anyone interested in exploring Islamic studies, religion in America, and the sociology of America.... [T]his book offers insight into what it means to be a Muslim American and into the dynamics of contemporary American life."
Religious Studies Review

"This riveting work describes the lives of Muslim Americans immediately after the most prolific and horrific attack on American soil in its history.... Peek does a fundamentally sound analysis of scrutinizing the lives of the young Muslim men and women…Behind the Backlash offers analytic insights that spell out many of the social dynamics processing Muslim marginalization and traumatization, as well as in their constructive responses. Peek does well in explaining why Muslim Americans were so readily vilified and then so easily victimized by some of their fellow Americans and their government, and sheds light on the social forces associated with post disaster blame assignment and backlash. What Peek describes has important implications for all Americans concerned for minority groups that suddenly become suspect, and in this case the focus of national attention after an unnatural disaster."
Symbolic Interaction

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Visit Lori Peek's website: http://wsnet.colostate.edu/CWIS584/Lori_Peek/.

 

Contents

Acknowledgments
1. Introduction
2. Under Attack
3. Encountering Intolerance
4. Backlash
5. Repercussions
6. Adaptations
7. Conclusion
Notes
Index

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About the Author(s)

Lori Peek is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University. She has published widely on vulnerable populations in disaster and is coeditor of Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora.

Subject Categories

Sociology
Political Science and Public Policy
Race and Ethnicity

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