Health of Muslims, Arab Americans another victim of 9/11
September 11th, 2012
03:28 PM ET

Health of Muslims, Arab Americans another victim of 9/11

By Abdul El-Sayed & Aasim I. Padela, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Abdul El-Sayed  is an epidemiologist at Columbia University and a fellow at Demos. Aasim I. Padela is assistant professor and director of the Initiative on Islam and Medicine at the University of Chicago and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed are their own.

More than a decade after September 11, 2001 and we are only now really beginning to comprehend the health fallout from the terrorist attacks. The effects suffered by first-responders and those who lived in downtown New York City have become increasingly clear, and have rightly been the subject of much attention. Indeed, only yesterday it was announced that 58 cancers had been added to the list of illnesses covered in the wake of 9/11. Yet, the health fallout of 9/11 was not limited to those who were near the World Trade Center or the Pentagon that day.

Health researchers have been compiling a list of health problems that they believe are directly and indirectly connected to 9/11. There are, of course, the more obvious problems – physicians and epidemiologists have, for example, noted unusually high rates of uncommon cancers among 9/11 survivors and rescue personnel, while the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder have unsurprisingly been high since the tragedy, even among those who did not directly experience the trauma of those events.

But we are now seeing evidence that the post-9/11 climate of discrimination and marginalization against Muslim and Arab Americans has translated into worse health among these groups.

Discrimination and social marginalization undeniably have an adverse impact on peoples’ health. Indeed, many contend that this in part explains why African-Americans often have poorer health outcomes than Caucasians when it comes to depression (studies suggest African-Americans suffering depression are generally less likely to seek help), diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infant mortality and even life expectancy. Discrimination and marginalization contribute to stress, harmful coping mechanisms like the use of drugs and alcohol, and discourage proper use of health services – all of which ultimately lead to poorer mental and physical health.

After 9/11, America’s about 10 million Arab and Muslim Americans, who were too often the victims of association with the perpetrators of the attacks, were – and continue to be – subjects of suspicion, discrimination, and abuse. Hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims and even Sikhs (who are often mistaken for Muslims) rose dramatically following the attacks, and continue to occur more commonly than in the pre-September 11 era. This phenomenon was in evidence most recently in the tragic attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last month.

As researchers who study the health of Arab and Muslim Americans, we regularly see the toll this climate of discrimination takes upon these communities. For example, one study showed that the likelihood of babies being born prematurely to Arab American women in California increased following 9/11. Another study suggested that Arab Americans have a lower life expectancy than Caucasians, despite having higher incomes and better education. Yet another study, of Michigan’s Arab community, found that 25 percent of respondents reported abuse following the attacks, with higher rates among Muslims compared with Christian Arabs. Those reporting discrimination were more likely to be suffering from psychological distress and were at greater risk of depression and anxiety.

Changing the cultural and social biases that fuel discriminatory behavior and hate crimes is a monumental task. But one way of addressing the problem would be to tackle a key factor that continues to fuel discrimination and hate – vitriolic speech. Events such as the Peter King hearings, in which Muslim Americans seemed to come under suspicion for no better reason than being Muslim, only stokes the flames of discrimination and reinforces a siege mentality among Muslims and Arabs that contributes to the poorer health of these communities.

Healing our country after 9/11 must mean healing all Americans affected by that day, and the memory of 9/11 should not be used to discriminate against or marginalize any American. Ensuring that this is the case is the only way this country can continue to work to heal the gaping wound those attacks left on the social fabric of our entire country.

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Topics: Health • Islam • September 11 • United States

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. LOL

    Still not fast enough. Will all of you quit sitting on your arises get up and help thin out the number of rag heads? If you aren't actively doing so, then you are nothing but a cowardly lib.

    September 11, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply
    • Black Panther 4life

      Maybe you should go back Europe, pilgrim. At lease they apply for visas when they come to the US, what did your great grand daddy do, eat rats on the May Flower? Kill natives with disease and viruses?

      September 14, 2012 at 5:34 am | Reply
  2. Keith

    I'm sure they would be more comfortable living in the middle eastern deserts. They should move there as soon as possible.

    September 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
    • Black Panther 4life

      Maybe you should go back Europe, pilgrim. At lease they apply for visas when they come to the US, what did your great grand daddy do, eat rats on the May Flower?

      September 14, 2012 at 5:32 am | Reply
  3. nice arab spring in libya and egypt

    where's tom-ass friedman now??????

    liberals and their PC culture are ruining the US....

    so sad.

    September 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
    • Black Panther 4life

      Yeah, xtian right-wing pro-zionist like Breivik don't use PCs at all, now do they?

      September 14, 2012 at 5:35 am | Reply
  4. Jason

    It's ironic that you, Mr. LOL, throw "cowardly" around while you "bravely" hide behind the mask of anonymity. It must take BIG tea bagger balls like yours to call people rag heads when you won't even own up to your ignorant comments like Keith does (who, by the way, clearly displays his expansive knowledge of where "they" live as he shows unequivocal cluelessness about "their" populations in Africa, southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, among others, which, I'm fairly certain, have much more diverse geographical characteristics than just "desert"). As for Mr. Third-And-Yet-Again-Anonymous-Commenter, please mind the fact that your egregious disregard for basic syntax and capitalization completely disqualifies you from being anywhere the same level as Mr. Friedman, flawed as his analyses may be. I'm pretty sure your idiotic views and pathetic education level, as indicated by your boorish diction, are doing more harm to this country by perpetuating and reinforcing a culture of illiteracy and prejudice, as opposed to progressives who try to improve and enlighten our society and clean up the economic, diplomatic, and environmental messes for which you idiot conservatives are responsible (even for the benefit of ignorant asses like yourself).

    September 12, 2012 at 12:13 am | Reply
    • Hahahahahahahahah

      You called them "idiot conservatives"!!! You should have called them "idiot republicans". Because since WHEN has a republican EVER been a conservative???? Hahahahahahahhaha

      September 12, 2012 at 9:16 am | Reply
  5. Quigley

    With all the ignorance and fanaticism running rampany across the country, I'm quite surprised that the Muslim Americans are doing as well as they are. Most people here do not understand Islam so they hate all Muslims en general. This is very good news for the Washington bureaucrats and politicians as the seek to enhance their careers!

    September 12, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
  6. they're all crazy

    Those reporting discrimination were more likely to be suffering from psychological distress

    September 12, 2012 at 10:14 am | Reply
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  9. Miranda

    enjoy.

    May 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  10. Eddie Fonseca

    Cat Stevens who wrote the famous song Peace Train in the late 70's or 80's talked about world issue's such as different cultures who work and live and peace and harmony. It did not matter if you were a Muslim American or Jewish American you still bleed the same blood, we must realize were are living in a multcutural society melting pot in America. When we talk about the Muslim American's as being all terriost's this is a flase sterotypical viewpoint, and we must realize that their mental health suffers when we labe them in a box like how sometimes newe's stories like pinpoint Muslims as being terriosts. As Americans we must create more culture programs for Arab American's and all races across America, this is only way we can move forward like other society's who accept all relgions and races.
    Being an American who has dated a Turkish German American women she was half split between Muslim and Christian, she was the most open minded person who did not follow the way's of crazy ideogly Muslim's who wanted to hate the West. If you could imagine her pain when she heard the newes of when her friends where hating the West she would cry, because it was not right that the country she loved that had given her family the freedom to make their dreams come true in this great land they called America. When we look our flag as it fly's in the wind on top of a tall building,we see freedom and justice for all American's who came to this great land from different places across the world, and called America home to live and work in peace and harmony free from relgious hate. As American's it's in our blood to stand up for injustice and let freedom prevail so when a group such as innocent Arab American's having their freedoms, taken away from they so we just watch from the sidelines or do something about it like we have always done in other places in the world for years to come.

    September 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  11. Eddie Fonseca

    Cat Stevens who wrote the famous song Peace Train in the late 70's or 80's talked about world issue's such as different cultures who work and live and peace and harmony. It did not matter if you were a Muslim American or Jewish American you still bleed the same blood, we must realize were are living in a multcutural society melting pot in America. When we talk about the Muslim American's as being all terriost's this is a flase sterotypical viewpoint, and we must realize that their mental health suffers when we labe them in a box like how sometimes newe's stories like pinpoint Muslims as being terriosts. As Americans we must create more culture programs for Arab American's and all races across America, this is only way we can move forward like other society's who accept all relgions and races.
    Being an American who has dated a Turkish German American women she was half split between Muslim and Christian, she was the most open minded person who did not follow the way's of crazy ideogly Muslim's who wanted to hate the West. If you could imagine her pain when she heard the newes of when her friends where hating the West she would cry, because it was not right that the country she loved that had given her family the freedom to make their dreams come true in this great land they called America. When we look our flag as it fly's in the wind on top of a tall building,we see freedom and justice for all American's who came to this great land from different places across the world, and called America home to live and work in peace and harmony free from relgious hate. As American's it's in our blood to stand up for injustice and let freedom prevail so when a group such as innocent Arab American's having their freedoms, taken away from them so we just watch from the sidelines or do something about it like we have always done in other places in the world for years to come.

    September 23, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Reply

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