I wonder as I remember.
Today people unloaded a lot of stress on me. Maybe it’s because I’m friendly, have an open nature or am just that person strangers like to confide in – but I heard a lot of post-memorial stories today.
From a previous resident of New York City unable to grieve until yesterday, I heard how he religiously avoided previous 9/11 coverage – only to break down completely at the first media clip of the memorial falls. From others I heard questions about why no one mentioned the number of people who have died in the War on Terror, or how the global media was decidedly silent about the Horn of Africa crisis for this one 24-hour period. A colleague told me how shocked they were after recognising some names among the victim’s solemn roll-call and felt raw wounds opening again. And even while believing this tenth memorial should bring closure, a close friend said that she still may not visit the site. She’s not sure she has the strength to face it.
The day after the 9/11 terror attacks I became an expert. 10 years ago I was a young convert to Islam. Only one and a half years old. A toddler.
I was an even younger muhajabah, having decided to put on the hijab only a few months prior to the attacks. I had barely even won the support of my parents and friends and was still trying to justify not shaking hands with men or explaining why I averted my eyes to everyone, including myself. I was fresh with enthusiastic Islamic ideals.
Because I held a very visible position on my university’s interfaith council I was thrust into a unique situation: One day I was a student walking home from my first class in Modern Judaism, suddenly advised with much gravity, seriousness and later, sinking dread, “K, you’d better get to a television.” The next day I was giving interviews and joining leaders from all faiths, speaking for my religion and presenting memorials for those lost – trying to provide guidance and solace for those left behind.
The day after that, contingency planning began to answer the sudden fear and associated guilt that gripped the small Muslim community, organising Islamic information days and joining solidarity events with the Christian and Jewish communities. And the day after that, documenting incidents of harassment and vandalism among our community and others.
My story is not new or special. It’s repeated in almost every Muslim community throughout North America. But ten years later I have to wonder how much of my identity as a Muslim and activity in the community resulted from 9/11. If the attacks never happened, would I have been spit on? Verbally attacked? Chosen as a Muslim spokesperson? How many Islamic awareness weeks did I help organise with a defensive subtext separating the overwhelming majority of peace-loving Muslims from the scattered few who cause so much horror? How often am I asked to answer for their actions and stand by the truth that Islam rejects terrorism and the murder of innocents?
It’s what many people in the Muslim community are wondering.
What strikes me about many of the amazing pieces that have been written on the 9/11 memorial, is how young these authors and Muslim activists were ten years ago, and how their lives were shaped by it: Growing up as part of Generation 9/11, the brilliant Ify Okoye turned her attention toward activism within the community. Amin Aser was learning basic math in middle school and feels that he is a Muslim because of 9/11. Growing up in an era of Muslim stereotypes, Yasmin Nouh’s mother told her she could take off the hijab if she felt she was in danger. The amazing Asma Uddin writes on the complexity of Muslim identity after 9/11. And ten years later, Muslim women are still fighting against discrimination.
I didn’t know how to respond to many of the reflections and opinions that were put onto me earlier on today. I consoled where I could, avoided engaging in political posturing and otherwise sympathised and nodded in agreement at the horror of the tragedy. But there were moments, caught in-between silences when I believe we all realised just how much has changed and that it’s time to move toward a more positive future. God willing.