American Muslim: Freedom, Faith and Fear

By Alan Selby


A lot has changed in the years since 9/11. The date itself has become emblematic of a change in attitudes towards Islam, perhaps most notably in the country which bore witness to the infamous attacks that day. Popular opinion has shifted, and the land of the free has become an increasingly hostile environment for Muslims. American Muslim: Freedom, Faith and Fear examines what it means to be a Muslim in America today and the consequences of the fact that, for many, the words Islam and terrorism are now permanently intertwined. 

The documentary, featuring Karen Zarindast from BBC Persian and Samir Farah from BBC Arabic TV, was screened at the Frontline Club. The team travelled across the length and breadth of the United States in order to examine the lives and experiences of a vast range of American Muslims. They discovered a country in which fear and confusion surrounds Islam, and where politicians and the media often foment unrest in order to further their own objectives. What was once a thriving cultural melting pot where Muslims were welcomed has now developed into a nation over which a sinister and pervasive Islamaphobia has taken hold in the last decade.

A question and answer session followed, during which Darius Bazargan, the film’s producer, Azadeh Moaveni, the author of Lipstick Jihad, and Zarindast discussed the film and some of the key themes that emerged. One of the most important issues was the impact of American foreign policy, as Bazargan suggested in response to the question of whether or not American Muslims will ever be able to escape the dogma associated with 9/11:

“I don’t think there’s any chance of going back to the quiet life, especially because of the impact of American foreign policy in Islamic countries; either through the involvement with Israel or elsewhere. It will be less resonant if there are fewer coffins coming home, and there will be fewer coffins coming home if American foreign policy changes.”

The panel also talked about some of the difficulties faced when filming, including budgetary and time constraints, as Bazargan made clear:

“We had editorial difficulties, you’re a slave to the road in these kinds of documentaries. There were lots of interesting people we had to drop from the final cut simply because they popped up at the wrong point in our journey and didn’t fit the arc of discovery."

As the evening ended somewhat acrimoniously, with conflicting views being raised from the floor over what is clearly an emotive issue to many, Zarindast did offer a consolatory take on her experience:

“I asked people if they would leave the country. They said no. I think it was fascinating, because I spoke to people in Birmingham after some of the recent trouble and they had never been to Pakistan or Bangladesh but they said that they would leave England in an instant. Nearly everybody I spoke to in America said no… this is their country.”