As a child, a teenager, an adult, a nation, and a global community we struggle to accept the painful reality of 9/11, we are captivated with a mixture of emotions. Perhaps like every American, I feel angry, violated, and despondent. Perhaps like every Muslim, I feel that for some strange reason, I must be accountable for this crime, simply because I am Muslim. At least, that’s what I am being forced to feel based on the racial profiling and stereotyping against my fellow Muslims I’ve seen since the tragedy.
I know it’s cannot be true; could I really be guilty by association? My story begins twenty-five years ago in Philadelphia, one of our nation’s greatest cities. My parents were Pakistani immigrants, looking for the great opportunity in America; and they embraced it. However, growing up in the Midwest was not easy for me, until I surrounded myself with other American Muslims, who also struggled with the same dual-identity. I later acknowledged the ideology of Americans who took pride in living amidst a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, and creeds. We focused on individuality and uniqueness, and to the most part, accepted everyone at face value. I, too, took advantage of that philosophy and graduated college as a confident and a self-proclaimed American Muslim woman of Pakistani descent. But after the nation was shocked on 9/11, I feel that I’ve lost that individuality; I lost what I sought after for after twenty-five years. But what I gained in return is immeasurable: solidarity among fellow citizens.
I recently participated in a panel discussion at a Chicago public school and told that group of sophomores and seniors not to judge me based on the actions of a group of hoodlums who claimed to be Muslim and decided to seek a sort of revenge on the United States. Don’t be fooled by what you see in the media, I told them. People are real, the television is not. At work, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by such good people. Many have expressed their sincere thoughts and have extended their prayers to me, and acknowledged that they too recognize that the murderers of 9/11 do not represent Islam. In fact, they do not represent any religion. No religion tolerates violence! I believe in justice and the preservation of humanity. I grieve each time I open the paper to see the memoirs of a family left behind. I grieve each time I think of a child left without a parent, or maybe both parents. But I also know it is important for me to be strong for them. To show my support; to show my solidarity; and to show my love. I feel so honored when I read statements from world leaders, many who were former enemies of the US, condemning 9/11 and offering support to join our newfound cause to end terrorism. I hated watching the bylines on the television: “America Under Attack”. Why did we have to feel like we were under attack? It made me feel depressed and defeated. Why leave the flag at half-mast? Raise the flag and raise the spirit. Don’t let the terrorists win, I told the students. Don’t extend the terrorism they instigated. We need to defeat the enemy as a united front.
As the nation slowly returns to their worldly affairs, we Americans are realizing the long road ahead. We have to adapt to a new lifestyle, a new trust in all people, and a new meaning of life. It takes years to build high rises, but only minutes for destruction. How irrelevant certain parts of my life have become, as a result of the rude awakening of 9/11. How justice has a new meaning to me, and how justice must be sought after is all a consequence of the cataclysm of 9/11/01. Let us take this unfortunate circumstance and channel our reflections of it into a renewed meaning of life. God Bless.