I know. I’m a week late.
But not really.
I simply gave myself time to reflect on what another 9/11 anniversary meant to me.
I was in NYC that day. I will always remember it. I lost friends in the towers. I have friends who made it out with their lives. I saw the second tower go down. It did not completely register. I did not comprehend what I was seeing, as everyone around me on 5th Avenue was screaming. It is still traumatic to remember.
As traumatic as it was for me, I know I cannot know what it must be like for firefighters and other first responders who who did all they could that day, running towards danger, sometimes not even knowing the extent of it, in order to help people. Their service is inspiring. And my sympathy is always with the families of those who perished.
For me, what sticks in my mind is the incongruity of the beauty of the day (the weather was amazing), as I left work early (we were sent home). I remember a sense uncertainty and fear: would there be additional attacks? I remember the sight of tanks rolling onto NYC streets troubling me, as though martial law had been declared (I know they were a precaution), and soldiers (National Guard, no doubt) with machine guns policing streets (that, in certain locales, has remained; the tanks are gone).
So much changed that day.
The decade that followed brought me increased anxiety around my identities as an Arab and Muslim American, something I thought I had settled as a youth. This attack by a so-called Muslim, would come to paint Islam for many Americans. And the prejudice and hate (never too far, when you’re “different”) came to the fore.
I remember hearing of increasing hate crimes (did you know anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate crimes went up by 1600% after 9/11?), shops vandalized, people who were not Muslim (like Sikhs), getting the brunt of the attacks as well, Muslim women who dared to wear the hijab and mark themselves visibly as Muslim got the brunt of it. It was also a time of solidarity, as interfaith organizers came together and non-Muslim women wore the hijab in symbolic protest at the hate that spread to an entire community for the actions of a few within it.
My friends and I shared hate mail we received. One, who was a gay Lebanese man, told of how he was visited by the FBI “for his own safety” at 3 a.m., and interrogated about potential terrorist connections. He was gay! Al-Qaeda probably hated him as much (if not more) than the USA! I remember wondering when people looked at me on the subway, “Why are they looking at me? Do I look, ‘Suspicious’ to them?” I remembered the times I overheard (on that day and in the weeks following), “We should round up all those Arabs!” (people said this in my hearing… and it made me feel very unsafe…). I didn’t go anywhere without my US Passport for at least a year.
Last year, there was a lot of media coverage of ceremonies for the Tenth Anniversary. It also was the year that the Right Wing used the Tenth Anniversary to turbo-boost their ongoing Islamophobia Campaign, attacking a Muslim-focused community center, Park51. Politicians and newsmongers capitalized on the drama. But they ignored that the Center would be two blocks away, not right there, and that there was already a mosque four blocks away, predating the World Trade Center even (in operation for 40 years)!
This has been deeply troubling time to be an American of Muslim culture or faith. It sometimes feels like many of my fellow citizens do not believe that one can be both American and Muslim. The way that some media talked about 9/11 made Muslims a “them,” something somehow erased from the history of this nation. And the way that they lump all Muslims together with a fringe group (a group that has definitely had an impact, but is in no way representative of the entire 1.5 billion of us!).
Remember I said I had friends who got out of the towers alive that day. Well, one of them is a Muslim. And I know that there were Arabs and Muslims who died there as well. We were all attacked. We are all New Yorkers.
Just as I ask my fellow Americans not to take the actions of a few and to impute them to the larger whole, I cannot take the vilification sponsored by some politicians and media (ratings) whores and ascribe them to all Americans. I take heart that the group Families of September 11 (“FOS11”) cosponsored a series of town-hall meetings presented by Americans for Informed Democracy entitled “Hope Not Hate”:
These meetings, which took place on university campuses across America, focused on relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Four Board members participated on more than a half-dozen panels made up of distinguished scholars, journalists, and academicians. For its participation in and cosponsorship of these seminars, FOS11 has been awarded the 2005 Common Ground Award by Search for Common Ground, an international organization dedicated to conflict resolution through constructive dialogue and effective communication (http://www.familiesofseptember11.org/collaboration.aspx)
So, this year, I reflected on the day, and the consequences of that day (personally and politically), the pain, the tug and pull of identity (which in the end, can be productive or generative).
And, things were markedly different from last year (no Right-Wing Islamophobia circus).
For me, a few other things were different.
First, I was struck that it was odd the NYT did not write anything on their front page about it that day.
I did not participate in any of the commemorative ceremonies, preferring to make it a personal experience. I went to my favorite park and offered up a prayer for the wellbeing of all those who perished, but most especially remembering the friends and classmates I lost.
And, I decided to mark the day in a positive way, to do something that I really should have done long ago.
I decided to do was finally put together my “Go Bag” (you know, the, in case of emergency have this bag ready to go with all sorts of essentials, the copies of your important documents, etc.).
I also put on my “to do” by the end of the year: a visit to the 9/11 Memorial.
And I still have not completely unpacked how I feel about the anniversary of 9/11. But that’s OK. I remembered those who died. I thought about what happened after. And I did something positive (the Go Bag).