I was a seventh grader in Darien, IL when 9/11 happened. All of us, students, teachers, administration, walked around in a daze that morning. I was 11; I had no idea what the implications of it would be in my life.
Third-period Biology: my teacher and basketball coach didn’t look at me at all when he explained to us that the attack wasn’t a “tragedy,” as people on the news were describing; it was an attack, he emphasized. Later that year, when I would ask the basketball team to donate money to a global poverty initiative for which I volunteered, he would be more direct: “How do we know this money isn’t going to some jail cell in Iraq?” he’d ask me, in front of the team.
Seventh-period Language Arts: my teacher explained to us that we are *American* and we would get through this together, like we always have. We were silent; I was filled with pride and hope. The boy sitting in front of me later turned around and asked if I was a spy from Afghanistan. My response: “My family’s Indian, Mike. That doesn’t even make sense.” He chuckled.
That is the first time I remember thinking, “Oh. This is going to, like, be a thing, in my life, forever.”
Indeed, it has been the thing in my life. For many youth in Muslim American communities, in Chicago and elsewhere, 9/11 has directly or indirectly affected our careers, our relationship with faith (both ours and others’) and not having faith, our participation in our communities and our interaction with our neighbors and friends. For me and most other Muslim Americans my age, I think these interactions have been overwhelmingly positive and progressive.
We have learned to deal with microaggressions (“Will you have to have an arranged marriage?” is a question I had to deal with way too early) and we have tried to move past them. While our community leaders had to deal with, and still have to deal with, the immediate and sometimes violent aftermath of the 9/11 attacks (sometimes a bit too close to home), we are struggling with adding nuance into national conversations inevitably surrounding our communities, our places of prayer and our relationships with government institutions, which, we all learned last year, still sometimes refer to us as “Mohammed Raghead.”
Today, because of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I know Muslims in Chicago who are working to make Islamic prayer spaces more accessible to women and advocating for interfaith service work for youth. There are national organizations that have worked against very direct, very aggressive anti-Muslim bus ads, organizations that have worked to bring the first ever Islamic art and culture museum to North America and organizations that have compelled us to take a hard look at how we portray Muslims on our TV shows. 9/11 forced social consciousness on us, and it has been sometimes difficult and sometimes amazing to watch.
Today, my Twitter feed is filled with #NeverForget tweets (“never forgetting” — another way to let emotions from 14 years ago sweepingly affect our opinions and, more significantly, our foreign policy). There are people quoting stats on how many Americans actually know a Muslim and commentary on President Obama’s Iran deal. I see tweets about the rise of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Europe, and other tweets about Syrian refugees.
It’s confusing but, 14 years later, it’s progress.