Jan 232011
 
Authors: Allison Sylte

During the weeks following 9/11, when CSU sociology professor Lori Peek walked down Wall Street, she would find the stereotypically bustling sidewalks entirely deserted.

“It was eerie, sad and really unsettling to be in New York during those long weeks after the tragedy,” Peek said.

Peek, a longtime disaster researcher and co-director of CSU’s Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis, flew to New York City just weeks after the terrorist attacks. Over the next two years, she documented the lives of 140 Muslim Americans living in a post-9/11 world.

Those stories are told in her new book, “Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans After 9/11” that came out in November.

“What made the study compelling was that, in some ways, we’re good at chronicling the visible crimes in society,” Peek said. “But it’s difficult to describe the individual forms of suffering.”

During a book reading on Friday evening at Old Firehouse Books on Walnut Street, Peek read multiple passages and shared her own experiences with the Muslim Americans whom she profiled in her study.

“I spoke to U.S. citizens who were trying to get their papers together because they were afraid of being deported,” Peek said. “If one thing can be said, those months following 9/11 were certainly an interesting time in history.”

And according to Peek, the fear those Muslims experienced was not unfounded. There was a 1,600 percent increase in hate crimes following 9/11, with additional discrimination observed in employment, harassment in schools and profiling in public places.

During her reading, Peek recounted the tale of a Columbia graduate student who, as the result of his Muslim heritage, was unable to find housing and was forced to spend three weeks sleeping in the college library.

“What I’ve come to find is that Muslims were subject to discrimination that wasn’t acceptable when directed toward any other group,” Peek said.

According to Peek’s colleagues, her work has already made a major contribution to her field.

“In her relatively short career, she has already achieved a good deal of national recognition,” said Kate Browne, a professor in the Department of Anthropology who introduced Peek before her presentation.

For Muslim Americans, the study meant more than just a contribution to academia.

“Studies like this are important because people need to know that not all Muslims are terrorists,” said Fatma Abdelrahman, an Arabic instructor at CSU and a Fulbright Scholar from Cairo, who attended Peek’s reading. “The extremists out there are not remotely indicative of Muslims worldwide.”

“Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans After 9/11” can be purchased at local bookstores, online retailers and directly through Temple University Press.

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