September 4th, 2011
08:50 PM ET
By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) - Showcasing alleged hate crimes, physical threats and profiling, a diverse group of ethnic organizations has coalesced to bring attention to what they call discrimination against Arabs, Muslims, Sikhs and others in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The project, titled "Unheard Voices of 9/11," officially launched online Friday with a call for people to share their experiences about being discriminated, targeted and demoralized because of their spiritual and cultural beliefs.
"We were all affected by 9/11, but the mainstream media has not always covered our stories," said Sapreet Kaur, executive director of The Sikh Coalition, one of the groups spearheading the effort. "This website is our chance to tell our stories, so that our voices are no longer unheard."
Some memories posted on unheardvoicesof911.org are from the days immediately after the attacks. Within six days of the attacks, the FBI reported that it initiated 40 hate crime investigations into alleged murders, attacks and arson directed at Americans who are Muslims, South Asians and Arabs.
Banjot Sing, a Sikh, recalled on a video posted on the "Unheard Voices" website how a police officer questioned him and a friend aboard a train out of Manhattan because a fellow passenger "thought we were dangerous."
Rabia Sajid described a man pulling up in a car in New York and yelling, "Go back to your country, otherwise I'm going to kill you." She said the pastor of a church where she was being tutored, and later police, suggested the best thing to do was not wear her Muslim headscarf so she wouldn't be targeted - something her parents likewise promoted, for her safety.
The New York resident, who is affiliated with the South Asian Youth Action group, said one of her biggest regrets is that she and others took that advice - not wearing clothing that was part of her Muslim heritage, for fear of being discriminated against.
"We didn't face the problem, but we were running away from it by trying to change our identity and who we are," Sajid said at an August hearing in New York City, portions of which are now on the "Unheard Voices" website. "We don't know how to face the problem ... I don't know what we can do."
There have been several high-profile cases of alleged hate crimes and cases in which Muslims and Sikhs faced opposition to projects due to their religion and heritage.
One that received significant international attention was Park 51, an Islamic community center proposed for two blocks from ground zero in Lower Manhattan. Many city residents opposed the effort, characterizing the location of the center - which would mostly house cultural, social and recreational programs, as well as a prayer space - as inappropriate given lingering feelings about Muslim militants' role in the 9/11 attacks.
Another example happened last year when a pipe bomb exploded at a Jacksonville, Florida, mosque. About 60 worshippers were inside at the time, but nobody was injured.
More recently, the leaders of a growing Muslim community in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, proposed building a new 52,000-square-foot structure with a mosque, gym, playground and cemetery.
Backlash followed, including lawsuits and an August 2010 fire that destroyed construction equipment and damaged vehicles at the site - which police labeled as arson. Last month, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said communities should be able to prevent such mosques from being built. He later apologized.
The effort, though, is moving forward despite such opposition. Essam Fathy, part of the Islamic Center's board of directors, said last week the mosque will be built, with its leaders saying construction will start as soon as next month.
Some of those participating in the "Unheard Voices" forums, and featured on their website, noted such victories in the face of opposition they described as being fueled by discrimination.
But others offered a more negative perspective, claiming that not enough has changed as far as how some still treat Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs and what's being done to counteract it.
"These 10 years have been pure fear, being scared of the next step, being scared of the next place we're going to go ... what my brother might face, what my dad might face, what I might face," said Manpreet Kaur, 21, from Oak Brook, Illinois. "It's that fear that, everywhere we go, something might happen because we are Sikh - because our men wear turbans, because we look different, because our names are different."
Anoop Prasad, a northern California resident who works for the Asian Law Caucus, said he's known many people who have been visited in recent years by FBI agents, claiming that such treatment sows widespread distrust against authorities among Muslims and others.
"In my community, people are very afraid - that's the reality," he said.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.