9/11: Reflections of a Muslim American
Every year around the anniversary of 9/11, I am overcome with curious and thought-provoking feelings. My heart fills with unrest, anger, confusion, sadness and pain. However, for the first time this year I acknowledged those feelings out loud.
It wasn’t until the 11th anniversary of the tragedy that I began to question why I felt this strange mixture of sadness and guilt. It wasn’t until I read over notes I had written in the 3rd grade about being scared to tell my friends that I was Muslim. The journal entries I wrote at age nine about how much I hated those men, crying myself to sleep after seeing the horrific images of the twin towers collapsing and how I couldn’t understand why my Islamic school was shut down for a month, that I began to realize the complexity of my identity as an American.
Growing up in a home where Somali drums and the beats of MTV raps competed for airtime, I taught myself to dance to both. I came of age in a home where I was quizzed on verses of the Quran by my grandmother and the lyrics of the latest Mary J Blige song by my sister with similar frequency. All of this was natural, there was no dark cloud over my identity as a Muslim-American, no cognitive dissonance or unease with myself as an individual, I was who I was. I was a child of this country before an attack on my nation would force her to disown me.
After that fateful day, it was all second-glances and suspicions. I would ask my dad to take me to the store or movies because my mother’s hijab was too telling. I would feel deeper hatred and disgust for those men that used my faith’s name as an excuse for their inhumane violence than any child should ever feel. I would begin what has been a long and treacherous journey to find my identity again.
Today, I am beginning my second year at college and those feelings of self-conscious anger have not gone away.
I wear the hijab I was scared to see my mother in years ago knowing that to some it is a symbol of the enemy.
Though, I have not entirely let go of the unease that comes with being a Muslim-American yet – I have begun to. The process has required me to reflect more upon the impact of 9/11 on my adult self and American society and the avenues for resolution.
Rebuilding National Identity
There are moments in our lives that destroy the foundations that we’ve built beneath us, if only to force us to build them again, this time consciously laying the bricks more securely. 9/11 was one of those times. Our national foundation was shaken and we didn’t know where to turn. We were hurt, we were frightened, we were angry. We felt weak.
It was a time for us to embrace one another. To stand hand in hand beneath our flag: those stars and stripes that stand for freedom, unity, democracy and hope.
Unfortunately 9/11 marked a different time for me, and people like me. These people were men and women, girls and boys, whose hearts filled with pride at the Star Spangled Banner but were suddenly pushed out of Lady Liberty’s embrace. These people were viewed as too close to the enemy, too foreign to be American and too complicated to attempt to understand. They found themselves unable to mourn with brothers and sisters of their nation at a time of unexplainable pain.
Even now, the guttural chants of my peers shouting ‘USA! USA! USA!’ makes me feel curiously uneasy. As if this show of exuberant nationalism somehow excludes me, a communal effort directed at me. This uneasiness is not uncommon in Muslim-Americans; this consciousness of a national understanding that all Muslims were somehow to blame for the tragedy of 9/11 is not lost upon us. In fact, it colors my existence and permeates my everyday life.
However, these feelings are not only unfounded, they serve to divide a healing nation. This reluctance to embrace the strong American identity I hold and my community’s hesitation to accept it, underscore the emotional legacy 9/11 had on the hearts and minds of Americans – a legacy of fear.
A fear of another terrorist attack, a fear of the “other,” a fear of a world that could produce such hatred, a fear of our own hateful reactions, a fear of immigrants, a fear of anything unknown or foreign, a fear of each other, a fear of ourselves.
On this day, 11 years after the attack, I remind myself that fear is born of fragility. And we are fragile – so sometimes blame and anger come more easily to us than love and acceptance. Sometimes our hearts beat to the drum of revenge and our consciousness does not want to strain itself by making the crucial differentiation between perpetrator and perpetrated upon.
Sometimes our spirit is so weak we need to blame someone, anyone, for the pain that now shrouds our national identity. But we cannot let that fragility define us. I hope that we can learn to shield each other from that fragility and give each other strength.
I pray for the innocent souls that were taken on 9/11 and the ones that were lost in the conflicts that were meant to avenge them and our own.
I hope that we can understand that we hold each other’s humanity within us – and that we begin to take that responsibility seriously.
By Ilhan Dahir
The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and it does not represent the editorial opinions of Markacadey online