One month and one day. That’s how old I was when the deadly attacks of 9/11 happened. I didn’t live in the U.S., nor was I old enough to understand the depth of the situation. Even when I was, it didn’t affect me. Or so I thought.
9/11 seemed like any other terrorist attack in my mind. I empathized with it as much as I did with the Air India Flight 182 attack or the Mumbai attacks in 2008. But I soon realized it wasn’t just any terrorist act; it was an attack that coiled fear with hate against one particular community. My community. The Muslim community.
While America showed solidarity to one another post-9/11 and every 9/11 since, they made sure to exclude, marginalize and attack any-one who resembled the stereotypical Muslim look.
Like the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
The South Asian and Arab communities as a whole had to take the fall for a terrorist organization rooted in an extremist mindset that none of us condoned. Brown folks who were previously referred to as neighbors, colleagues, taxpayers and Americans soon became terrorists, jihad-is and suspects.
Even then, growing up in Muslim countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, I was unbothered by it. Little did I know that 17 years later, when I decided to visit America in 2018, even my name was going to be changed. At Walmart it was “scary raghead,” and in history class it was “poor, oppressed brown girl.” Getting randomly searched at airports also became a routine.
The well founded alarm arose from the attack brought classification, discrimination and prejudice along with it. The single narrative of Islam as a synonym for violence and Muslims as dangerous created an imbalance of stories making that one characteris-tic the only feature worthy of being assigned.
Slowly but surely, like American researcher Dalia Mogahed explained, Muslims were seen as a tumor in the body of America, one which had to be either removed completely if malignant or kept under constant surveil-lance if benign.
This view was dangerous. It stirred loathing and bias against one American com-munity, which was equally traumatized like the whole nation was — all under the one spell of belief and faith.
Muslims were targeted as though they were all responsible for the crime that happened two decades ago. It has gotten to the point where Muslims are afraid to go out on 9/11, fearing the consequences that would occur with this unjust and false association even after 20 years.
I want to remind Americans that singling out an entire religion based on what 19 terrorists from the same religion did is neither a justifiable defense mechanism nor an acceptable way to show empathy or grievance.
Muslims are allowed to honor almost 3,000 innocent lives lost that day. Muslims are allowed to feel the pain. And they’re allowed to grieve.
Muslims are allowed to be Americans.