he government's roundup and detention of U.S. citizens and immigrants perceived to be Arab, South Asian, or Muslim is likely fostering discrimination and prejudice above and beyond the impact of 9-11, say social psychologists.
The violent attacks of September 11 and their aftermath have created a real-world experiment for social scientists who usually develop their theories in university labs. Their research, much of which is still in progress, shows that the more positively people feel toward their country, the more likely they are to hold anti-Arab prejudices. Taken with statistical evidence of hate crimes and job discrimination, the new research suggests that while the shock of the attacks sparked bigotry against those associated in American minds with Islam, subsequent sweeping crackdowns, such as the government roundup and detention of Muslims, are sending "social signals" that are worsening the biases.
"I would hypothesize that the aftermath of 9-11—the Patriot Act, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq—would do more to increase anti-Arab bias than 9-11 on its own," said University of Virginia social psychologist Brian Nosek.
One of the new studies found that after 9-11 people thought better of politicians, firefighters, and Americans in general, but felt more negative toward U.S. citizens of Arab descent, new immigrants, Palestinians, and residents of Islamic or Middle Eastern countries. The findings, by social psychologist Linda Skitka of the University of Illinois at Chicago, to be published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, dovetail with other, smaller studies in the wake of 9-11 that found that the more positively one felt about the U.S., the more likely one was to be anti-Arab.
Changes in the public's perception of Muslims, Arabs, and related groups are manifesting on the streets and in offices. In the months immediately following 9-11, hate crimes against Muslims shot up to 34 times their pre-attack levels, according to FBI reports. The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), based in Washington, D.C., reported that hate crimes against people believed to be of Middle Eastern descent increased 40 times before dropping to about double the former rate—and that rate has held steady.
Reports of workplace bias have stayed consistently high. Complaints to the U.S. Equal Opportun-ity Employment Commission of discrimination against Muslim workers have doubled. Reports to the ADC of employment discrimination against Arab Americans quadrupled in 2002.