Twenty-one years ago, on September 11, 2001, a part of America was shattered and has not been repaired since. We all remember 9/11 as the day that two Twin Towers collapsed, the day a plane was hijacked, the day America lost 2977 lives. And while this is all true and tragic, the tragedy of 9/11 never ended there, because while America recovered, Muslim Americans continued to suffer.
Since 9/11, hundreds of Muslims have been victims of intimidation, assault, and hate attacks. Islamophobia was not anything new, but this incident created a new America for Muslim Americans. The way society reacted and generalized was expected, but the effects of how the government handled it was also vastly immature.
My generation is blamed for an event we weren’t alive for. I remember as a kid I would hate going to school on 9/11 because kids would ask questions about me. Even teachers or administrators would ask us to be extra respectful that day as if they were asking us to make up for something that we did.
Following the attacks, Muslim charities were shut down and charged for having “ties” to terrorists. The FBI and federal agencies began closely monitoring Muslim communities and mosques, claiming they are focusing on public safety when in reality these systems themselves are driving the lack of public safety for minority groups. Not only that, but the lack of personal liberties and human rights causes a greater threat to public safety. Many “counter-terrorism” actions affect a person’s liberty and right to privacy. As the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy of 2006 notes, violations of human rights are among the conditions “conducive to the spread of terrorism,” even though they can never excuse or justify terrorist acts.
Drone strikes can be considered an example here, by violating others’ privacy or liberty, we cause them to act aggressively towards us. So we escalate terrorism and never consider the consequences it may have in the end. To limit public safety threats, we must first address how the governments can limit them. By taking away the liberties of its citizens, we are already creating a system in the population that must fight for its freedoms — thus creating more fear and war.
As a Muslim American, my generation is blamed for events that most of us were not even alive for, I remember as a kid I would hate going to school on 9/11 because kids would ask questions about me. The worst part of it all was that even teachers or administrators would ask us to be extra respectful that day as if they were asking us to make up for something that we did.
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It is not only that we are all grouped together as a monolith, but also the fact that we are suddenly seen as bad people. Part of what happens is because nobody hears our side of the story; this is the fault of the pop culture misrepresenting us in the media, as well as people holding a position of power and not including us or inviting us to speak for ourselves.
Every 9/11, I listen to a presentation that gaslights me, while I am expected to act a certain way, but nobody asks how this projection hurts us, and still does, even today. Moreover, with the ongoing conversations about Afghanistan and the Taliban, many will use this to drive Islamophobic rhetoric and promote xenophobic ideas. And our new generations will continue to suffer from these waves of discrimination. It has been 20 years, and we refuse to continue to be a part of this cycle of discrimination.
I encourage all of us to reflect. Acknowledge the past, but also address how our present is being affected, and check on our Muslim brothers and sisters. My heart goes out to every Muslim and person of color that has been discriminated against because of being who they are. It is also important to recognize the change that is being done actively by Muslim Americans and various Islamic groups that have chosen not to stay silent about the hatred that they get because of 9/11, and tell their stories.