After 9/11, many people had a hard time separating the extremest actions of terrorists and Islam in their minds. Many worried that innocent Muslims in western countries would become targets of discrimination. In a study looking at religious and ethnic discrimination in the UK for seven ethnic groups, the two ethnic groups surveyed that are primarily Muslim (Pakistanis and Bangladeshis) reported the greatest increase in discrimination after the 9/11 attacks. The researchers argue that major world events like 9/11 can increase discrimination not just in the country in which they occur but also in other countries. Another study revisited Milgram’s famous lost-letter experiments in order to look at prejudice behaviour against Muslims. Their study, conducted in Sweden, found that when people found a lost, unsent letter addressed to a “Muslim sounding” name they were less likely to post the letter than if the name was Swedish sounding. However, they say that this was only the case when the letter contained money (so when the finder would benefit by not passing the letter on). The authors argue that this could provide evidence of discrmination against Muslims, although it also could simply be a confirmation of previous research showing that people are prejudiced against foreign sounding names in general.
Recent news that ground zero in New York City is the future site of a community center intending to include a mosque has become somewhat controversial. Some herald the decision as a step towards developing closer ties with the Muslim community, while others say that they feel a mosque would act as a reminder of the extremist views behind the 9/11 attacks. Much research in social psychology has shown that intergroup contact can reduce prejudice. According to a meta-analysis of contact research, this is because contact can increase knowledge about the outgroup, reduce anxiety about contact, and increase empathy and perspective taking towards the outgroup. So, the project could help to increase contact between Muslims and non-Muslims and hopefully lead to a decrease negative stereotypes and attitudes towards Muslims.