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A Rage Shared by Law: Post-September 11 Racial Violence as Crimes of Passion

72 Pages Posted: 23 Nov 2008  

Muneer I. Ahmad

Yale Law School

Date Written: October 1, 2004

Abstract

September 11 will long be associated with unthinkable violence. The sheer magnitude of the terrorist attacks, the visual imagery of the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center, and the extensive media attention given to the victims have defined the violence of September 11 in unitary terms. But in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, another form of violence spread across the country: in the days and weeks after September 11, over one thousand bias incidents against Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians were reported. These incidents, including the murders of as many as *1262 nineteen people, assaults of scores of others, vandalism of homes, businesses and places of worship, and verbal harassment of countless individuals, form part of the subterranean history of September 11. While the violence of September 11 itself is largely thought to have been incomprehensible, post-September 11 hate violence is remarkable precisely because it is something we can understand. Although condemned as individual acts of criminality, the phenomenon of hate violence toward Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians is one that appeared to need little explanation; it was accepted as a regrettable, but expected, response to the terrorist attacks. As early as September 12, 2001, major newspapers reported predictions of the violence against these communities.

The physical violence exercised upon the bodies of Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians has been accompanied by a legal and political violence toward these communities. In the first two years after September 11, the United States has developed a corpus of immigration law and law enforcement policy that by design or effect applies almost exclusively to Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians. These laws operate in tandem with the individual acts of physical violence that have been carried out against these same communities, thereby aiding and abetting hate violence. Taken together, the multiple assaults on the bodies and rights of Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians produce a psychological violence as well and reracialize the communities they target as "Muslim-looking" foreigners unworthy of membership in the national polity.

Having occurred in a time of national tragedy, and in the wake of a far grander spectacle of violence, it is perhaps inevitable that the hate violence against Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians would receive short shrift in governmental, media, or public attention. This Article attempts to trace a genealogy of the racial violence in the aftermath of September 11, with three purposes in mind: (1) to explicate the mutually reinforcing relationship between individual hate crimes and governmental racial profiling, and the racialization they jointly effect; (2) to explore the psychological motivations for individual hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and South *1263 Asians, and how state-sponsored violence against these communities has reflected that psychology; and (3) to illuminate how the interrelationship among different systems of subordination serves to normalize such violence.

Keywords: race, racial profiling, September 11, hate crime, Arab, Muslim, South Asian, racialization, crime of passion

Suggested Citation

Ahmad, Muneer I., A Rage Shared by Law: Post-September 11 Racial Violence as Crimes of Passion (October 1, 2004). California Law Review, Vol. 92, No. 5, 2004. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1305628

Muneer I. Ahmad (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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