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Racial Disparities in International Security: A Closer Look at Policy Changes Post-9/11

The events of September 11, 2001, ushered in a new era in international security, leading to sweeping policy changes in the United States and around the world. While these changes aimed to enhance national security, they have also raised concerns about racial disparities in the implementation of policies related to no-fly lists, surveillance programs, and immigration. This blog post delves into how these racial disparities have emerged and persisted in the post-9/11 security landscape.

No-Fly Lists: A Tool for Racial Profiling?

No-fly lists are one of the most controversial aspects of post-9/11 security policies. These lists are intended to prevent individuals who pose a security threat from boarding commercial flights. However, there have been numerous allegations that they have been used to target individuals from specific racial and ethnic backgrounds disproportionately. A significant criticism of no-fly lists is their lack of transparency and due process. Names can be added to these lists without the affected individuals being informed of why or given an opportunity to challenge their inclusion. This lack of transparency has led to concerns that racial profiling may occur, with Muslim individuals and people of Arab or South Asian descent being disproportionately affected.

Furthermore, studies have shown that Muslims and Arab Americans have faced increased scrutiny and difficulty while travelling post-9/11. These experiences have left a lasting impact on these communities, fostering a sense of mistrust and alienation.

Surveillance Programs: The Erosion of Privacy Rights

The post-9/11 era witnessed the expansion of surveillance programs on an unprecedented scale. The USA PATRIOT Act, in particular, granted law enforcement agencies broad powers to conduct surveillance on individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. While these measures were enacted with the intention of protecting national security, they have had a significant impact on civil liberties, and concerns about racial disparities have arisen. One notable example is the surveillance of Muslim communities. Reports have documented widespread surveillance of mosques, Islamic centers, and Muslim student groups, raising concerns about religious profiling. This surveillance infringes upon Muslim Americans’ rights and erodes the trust between these communities and law enforcement agencies.

Immigration Policies: Targeting Vulnerable Populations

Moreover, Immigration policies post-9/11 have also come under scrutiny for their racial disparities. The introduction of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) in the United States in 2002 required individuals from predominantly Muslim-majority countries to register with the government. While it was officially discontinued in 2011, the program disproportionately affected Arab and South Asian communities. This program made it increasingly difficult to take measures to avoid deportation that are often available to those of other nationalities (See: American Immigration Council).

What’s more, the broader immigration enforcement efforts in the United States, particularly during the Trump administration, raised concerns about racial profiling. Policies like Executive Order 13769, more commonly known as the “Muslim Ban,” disproportionately impacted individuals of specific racial and ethnic backgrounds. The Executive Order separated families at the border and targeted immigrant communities, creating a climate of fear and uncertainty within them.

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According to researchers, the primary justification for regressive border regulations in the post-9/11 world is the prejudiced association of Muslims with terrorist activity (Sharma 2006). Few scholarly studies examine the experiences and worries of racialized minorities impacted by no-fly lists, despite concerns about their intrinsic racism.

However, an article published in 2020 in The British Journal of Criminology by Baljit Nagra and Paula Maurutto, titled: No-Fly Lists, National Security and Race: The Experiences of Canadian Muslims” explores an academic study of how no-fly lists affect Canadian Muslims. In this article, they conducted 70 in-depth interviews with Muslim community leaders in an effort to learn more about how Canadian Muslims are still impacted by no-fly lists. This article shares the voices of many Muslim Canadians and their personal experiences with the no-fly list in Canada. Scholarly work like Nagra and Maurutto’s is important to help us understand racial disparities specific individuals have experienced since the terrorist attack that happened on September 11, and is critical for moving forward to correct our intrinsic biases.



Sharma, N. (2006). 'White Nationalism, Illegality and Imperialism: Border Controls as Ideology,' in K. Hunt & K. Rygiel (eds.), Gendering the War on Terror: War Stories and Camouflaged Politics.


Zoe Lebel is a second-year Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) student at Queen's University and an Outreach Coordinator of WIIS-Queen's. The opinions of this blog post are reflective of the author and are separate from the organization, Women in International Security Queen's Unviersity (WIIS-Queen's).


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