Episode 5, Lesson 6: “Victimized Twice”: 9/11, South Asian Americans & Islamophobia

Episode 5, Lesson 6

“Victimized Twice”: 9/11, South Asian Americans & Islamophobia

GRADE  11-12
SUBJECT  Civics and Government, English Language Arts, U.S. History
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 marked a turning point in American policies toward immigration, privacy, and the ways South Asian Americans were perceived and treated after. Students will learn about the various ways South Asian Americans have experienced disproportionate and targeted racial profiling, hate crimes, and other acts of discrimination. They will also learn about the ways in which South Asian Americans responded to the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath, providing insight into how immigrant communities are often caught between the pressures of representing themselves in a way that appeals to the expectations of the status quo, and the desire to practice their culture and traditions in a way that allows them to fully embrace their cultural and ancestral identity.

Students will:
  • Explain how the 9/11 attacks influenced behaviors, attitudes, and policies of the United States towards South Asian Americans.
  • Explain how the behaviors, attitudes and policies toward South Asian Americans after the 9/11 attacks affected their communities.
  • Explain how local and global events contribute to xenophobia, and Islamophobia as it pertains to South Asian Americans.

On September 11, 2001 (9/11), Al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group, headed by Osama Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia, launched an attack on the United States by flying hijacked airplanes into designated targets in New York City and Washington, DC. Afterwards, acts of racial profiling, hate crimes, and discrimination were committted against Americans of South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern descent because they were scapegoated for 9/11. Some questioned if they were terrorists or “un-American”, challenging their citizenship and loyalty to the U.S.. According to comedian and activist Hari Kondabolu, they were “victimized twice.” First, as Americans, they were victimized by the terrorist attacks; second, they were being blamed by many Americans for the acts of terrorism.
Over 500 hate crimes against South Asian Americans were reported during the period immediately after 9/11. The first hate crime occurred on September 15, 2001 against Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American who was shot and killed at the gas station he owned in Mesa, Arizona by Frank Roque, a white airplane mechanic. Roque claimed himself to be a patriot and believed that Sodhi was a foreign threat because of the turban and beard that he wore. These acts of prejudice and hostility against anyone who appeared to be Muslim due to their skin color, ethnic garb, language, religion and other visible and invisible markers of cultural and ancestral identity, came to be called Islamophobia.
U.S. policies were enacted and changed after 9/11. In October 2001, President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act (Patriot Act) to prevent future terrorism against the U.S. This gave law enforcement broader power to surveil Americans, and Muslim communities were especially targeted without the use of warrants. Further, immigration policies in the U.S. began to shift from paths toward citizenship to deportation. An example of this is Ansar Mahmood, a Pakistani immigrant who was deported for accidentally stepping into a water treatment facility while taking photos. The police department reported this to the FBI, which led to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) deporting Ansar even though he was cleared of being a foreign threat.
Since 2001, dozens of organizations aimed at advocating for the fair treatment and civil rights of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian Americans and promoting awareness of these issues have grown across the country. Additionally, South Asian representation has significantly increased in various government offices. Examples include Indian American Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina; Afro-Indian American Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator from California, and Sikh American Ravinder Bhalla, mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey.

  • Hate Crime: when a crime is committed or conspired to be committed on the basis of a person’s specific characteristics. In most states, characteristics include race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. At the federal level all these characteristics are included as well as national origin.
  • Racial profiling: the act of accusing someone of violating the law on the basis of his or her race or ethnicity.
  • Islamophobia: the fear, hatred, and/or hostility against Muslims and toward the religion Islam. This prejudice also applied to people who appeared to be Muslim by perpetrators.
  • Sikhism: a religion mainly practiced by people of South Asian descent that is not related to Islam. Practicing Sikh men and women may wear a turban. Turbans are valued because it shows their belief in equality, and that people of all faiths worship one Divine Being who created this world and lives within it.

  1. How did the 9/11 attacks change the way South Asian Americans were perceived and treated? How have other Asian Americans or other racial or ethnic groups been treated similarly?
  2. How did the 9/11 attacks influence America’s policies on immigration?
  3. What is Islamophobia? How do local and global events influence Islamophobia?
  4. How might it have felt for South Asian Americans to be “victimized twice” and have phrased like “go home” or “go back to your country” yelled at them? Is it fair to say such phrases to people, even during times of distress/emergency like the attacks on 9/11? Why or why not?

ACTIVITY 1: Connecting the WWII Japanese Americans incarceration with post-9/11

Norman Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush draws parallels between what he and nearly 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent faced during World War II with the post-9/11 fear among the American public against Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans. He recounts President Bush wanting to ensure what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II didn’t happen to Muslim communities and communities who appeared to be Muslim. However, soon after 9/11, the Patriot Act and other U.S. policies led to discrimination against South Asian and Muslim Americans.

Instruct students to research what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, including answering the following questions:
  • Was Ansar Mahmood a victim of racial profiling? Do you think what happened to Ansar Mahmood is fair? Why or why not?
  • Have you been discriminated against based on what you look like (race, age, gender, sexual orientation)? If this has not happened to you, think of or research a situation in which this happened to someone else. Then answer the following:
    • What happened? Why? (Think about current events that may have influenced this act of profiling, stereotypes people have about this particular community) How were you or this person affected?
  • What can be done to prevent people from being racially profiled?



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