New York has long been a majority-minority city, but it’s more that way now than ever before, a decade after 9/11 threatened to turn the metropolis into a walled compound. In the past decade, tens of thousands of white New Yorkers have moved out of the five boroughs, and the apartments and subway seats they’ve left behind have been filled by almost 700,000 immigrants, the lion’s share of whom hail from what we used to call the Third World. As large, anxious swaths of the American electorate grew suspicious of the foreigners, and more specifically the Muslims, in our midst, New York became a somewhat more foreign place.
New York City and the rest of America have always had a fraught relationship, and 9/11 led to an awkward romance: Somehow, this cosmopolitan, hedonistic, and more than slightly weird place became the locus of a dormant blood-and-soil nationalism. Lower Manhattan, a temple of commerce and cultural exchange, was the site of an atrocity that had to be avenged. Many who felt no great affection for the folkways of the city’s sissified elite came to feel ownership of the tragedy and a kinship with the gutsy first responders who became the (mostly white) face of the city’s response.
And New York, a black-and-brown polyglot metropolis, became theirs as much as ours. This is part of the reason so many non–New Yorkers expressed such outrage over the prospect of an Islamic cultural center near ground zero—known officially first as Cordoba House, then as Park51, and nicknamed by critics the “ground-zero mosque” and even the “victory mosque.”
And a slice of New York, mostly white and mostly old, was in tune with this new, semi-racial nationalism. Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind, who had long championed a law to allow the police to engage in ethnic profiling against people who appeared to be of Middle Eastern and South Asian origin, was among the New Yorkers leading the charge against the cultural center.
But the most interesting thing about New York in the aftermath of 9/11 is how the xenos reacted to the xenophobia: They reacted, for the most part, with relaxed detachment, knowing victory was inevitable and that very little was truly at risk. The number of Muslim New Yorkers has soared, thanks to a prolific birthrate and continued immigration. The largely Muslim Bangladeshi community, one of the backbones of the city’s service economy, has more than doubled in size.
America has become more closed over this past decade. Student visas are a nightmare; the immigration bureaucracy has grown larger, dumber, and more complex; and brainiac engineers and entrepreneurs regularly run into brick walls. But New York is still a little island republic, as open to the world as ever, and slightly out of step.
Reihan Salam, a policy adviser at economic think-tank e21, is the author of the Agenda, National Review’s domestic-policy blog.
From 2000 to 2007, 1.5 million people left the counties in the New York metro area, and 800,000 left the five boroughs. More than 600,000 foreigners came and settled here.