On September 11, 2001, a set of coordinated attacks on the U.S. World Trade Center, Pentagon, and White House left several thousand dead, sparking heightened national security measures and an Islamophobic backlash.
The George W. Bush administration responded by declaring a new “war on terrorism,” as well as naming Al Qaeda, an Afghanistan-based terrorist group, and its Saudi Arabian leader, Osama bin Laden, as the source of the attacks. This prompted a countrywide wave of anti-Muslim sentiment and violence. In 2002, the U.S. and its Western allies invaded Afghanistan and the following year, the U.S. declared war on Iraq.
On the domestic front, the government created a new Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and expand national security initiatives and Congress passed several new laws that compromised the civil liberties of anyone suspected of having a connection to terrorist activities. Among these was the U.S. Patriot Act, a more than 300-page bill that gave new power to law enforcement agencies to engage in domestic spying, including reading surface and electronic mail, wiretapping, and obtaining personal records from third parties without the target’s knowledge or consent. Middle Eastern immigrants were especially impacted by this expansion of governmental surveillance power, which resulted in the arrest and detention of many people with no connection to terrorism.