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Terrorist or Hero? What the News Said About a Pakistani Man at the World Trade Center

Monday, March 18, 2024 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Talk by Nausheen Husain (Magazine, News and Digital Journalism, Syracuse University), and Mohammad Ebad Athar (History at Syracuse University)

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the FBI investigated a 23-year-old Pakistani man, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, who was declared missing at the site of the attack. As part of their investigation, FBI and CIA officials visited Hamdani’s home in Queens where they questioned his parents about his whereabouts and his background. The New York Daily News said his disappearance “quickly took on sinister implications.” Hamdani was a police cadet in training and was working as a research technician at Rockefeller University. On September 11, Hamdani was headed to work when the attacks happened and, having prior experience as an EMT, went to offer assistance. At the conclusion of the law enforcement investigation, Hamdani was found to be innocent, given full police honors at his funeral, and was declared a hero by then-mayor Mike Bloomberg. The Patriot Act passed on October 26, 2001, states that Hamdani “acted heroically.” The New York Times called him “an all-American Jedi.” In analyzing the news coverage of Hamdani, we argue that Hamdani’s case is representative of the impact the news media can have in the normalization of South Asian and Muslim-identifying people being a securitized population throughout the ongoing War on Terror, as well as the perpetuation of the ‘good Muslim, bad Muslim’ trope in media and pop culture. Connecting to our larger work supported by the Lender Center for Social Justice at Syracuse University, we connect Hamdani’s story to coverage of cases of entrapment of Muslim men by the FBI in sting operations, using data-driven news audits as our methodology.

Mohammad Ebad Athar is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Syracuse University and is a graduate fellow at the Lender Center for Social Justice working on the impact of media coverage of Muslims during the War on Terror. His dissertation research examines the securitization of South Asian identity in the United States and the Persian Gulf during the ongoing Global War on Terror. 

Nausheen Husain is a journalist, assistant professor of journalism at Syracuse University, and current faculty fellow at the Lender Center for Social Justice. Her research focuses on the news coverage of the War on Terror defendants and infrastructures after 9/11.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, South Asia Program, Asian Studies, Government, Asian American Studies Program


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