After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93, which together claimed nearly 3,000 lives, Americans were at first shocked and stunned. For many people, those reactions quickly turned to anger and rage when it became known that the perpetrators of those three horrendous acts were 19 fundamentalist Muslims. Moreover, they had the backing of Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group that claims its religious ideology comes from an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism.“The increase in hate crime was so sharp and so dramatic that it teaches us how when you live in a country that is as diverse as ours, how fragile our social fabric really is and how quickly a catastrophic event like this can reveal those tensions that are there during non-disaster times,” Colorado State University professor Lori Peek observed on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The sociologist interviewed 140 Muslim men and women concerning their own aftermath experiences for her 2010 book, “Behind the Backlash.”It only took days for that backlash to rise to the killing of a Sikh man who wore a turban plus a Coptic Christian storekeeper who was Egyptian. Researchers like Peek said the hatred and hate crimes against Muslims or perceived followers of Islam might have lessened during the intervening post-9/11 years, but never really died out. In fact, as the United States launched wars against Afghanistan in 2001 and two years later Iraq — both having predominantly Islamic populations — there was another spike in anti-Muslim violence, although it never reached the levels of the days right after the three-pronged attack. Yet Peek, co-director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State, said one of the clearest aftereffects was the “public vilification” of Muslims. She pointed out that the same negative comments made about Catholic immigrants to the shores of America 100 years ago had been “recycled” against Muslims. As one example of this blatant discrimination, Peek cited the heated debate over the Park51 cultural center or so-called “ground-zero mosque” in New York City. So after the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people and injured more than 200 others on April 15, the question is raised: Will there be another backlash against Muslims in America — whether they are green-card-carrying permanent residents or U.S. citizens, like accused bombers Tamerlan and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?Possible delayed reaction“I think definitely we’re going to see backlash,” Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council based in Los Angeles, told The Tidings. “I don’t think it’ll spike to the level it has been in other crises we’ve seen in the past, like 9/11. It could have to do with the magnitude of the incident. It could have to do with more sophisticated media. It could have to do with American Muslims really controlling the situation to the extent they can find their voices. All of the above, actually.“Unfortunately, more damage can be done — and is usually done — later as you move away from the incident. For example, you’re going to have more hearings about radicalization and try to pin it on the Muslim community or say that Islam is the problem.”Milia Islam-Majeed, executive director of the South Coast Interfaith Council (SCIC) based in Long Beach, acknowledged she has a special place in her heart for Boston, having earned a master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School. And as an American Muslim, she was both “despondent and outraged” that anyone could commit such cowardly acts in the name of Islam. “I think at the back of everyone’s mind there’s probably a certain fear and trepidation that another backlash could possibly happen,” she said. “And I think fear and anger are those catalysts that could really propel someone to do things that are irrational or negative or hurtful to another religious community.On the other hand, she continued, in the days of the 9/11 attacks, “a lot of people just didn’t know anything about the Islamic faith. But now I think people are more educated. I think we’ve developed relationships with one another. So I’m hopeful that will allow people to see beyond a knee-jerk reaction and say, ‘Terrorism has no faith.’ It’s something that individuals do and not something that has to do with any faith tradition itself.”The director of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs office, Father Alexei Smith, recently joined with the head of SCIC and Tony Fadale to facilitate a nine-week pilot program called “The Spirit of St. Francis and the Sultan: Christian and Muslims Working Together for the Common Good.” The title refers to the historic meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan Malik al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade, and was developed by JustFaith Ministries in Louisville, Kentucky. Father Smith said the program, which was held in a Protestant church in the South Bay, was a “real success” in partnering Christians and Muslims to promote better understanding of each other’s faith. Now he wants to bring it to the archdiocese’s other four pastoral regions. “Things are certainly all evolving about the Boston bombing, but right now I don’t see rumblings it will ignite anti-Muslim sentiments like 9/11 did,” Father Smith said. “I don’t see the same intensity as we experienced before. Now that’s not to say that that won’t come if later developments happen. But initially I don’t see that happening.“And I see that as a positive reflection of the efforts that have been made between Christians and followers of Islam here in the archdiocese, including our own work. I haven’t talked to any Muslims about it; and, actually, I think that’s a good sign. If people were really concerned, they would be on the phone to me right away.” Tony Fadale, former chair of what is now the Life, Justice and Peace Commission, reached out to the Muslims who attended the pilot interfaith program he helped facilitate. “Obviously, there was certainly a lot of backlash after 9/11, so I just stated how I was concerned for them,” he reported. “And they’re even more than concerned. I would say ‘anxious’ is the best word to use. But they weren’t going to build a bomb shelter to hide in.“One of the things they’ve emphasized to me is that no faith would want to do what happened in Boston. And for people to believe that Muslims in some way do that kind of violence all the time, or that’s their M.O., is so beyond what they really think and believe. Like us Catholics, followers of Islam have a real respect for all of God’s creation and, especially, for human life.” This is the first part of a two-part series on the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. On May 5 at 6:15 p.m., local interfaith leaders, including Father Alexei Smith, Milia Islam-Majeed and Tony Fadale, will present “Getting to Know the American Muslims and Their Faith” at American Martyrs Church, 624 15th St., Manhattan Beach. Information: contact Tony Fadale at [email protected]. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0503/boston/{/gallery}