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Reflections on September 11th: Eighteen years on

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I overheard someone say, ‘It only feels like yesterday’, in reference to 9/11. 

And that really struck me because it’s true. 

Not only because I remember that day so well; the stutter in the principal’s voice as it rang through the PA system, scrambling for words in trying to tell a school full of children how not one but two planes had hit the towers. I remember the sombre tone as he told us that America was under attack, no idea of what it actually meant as we sat in a circle in Mrs. McCoy’s grade 2 class. 

I remember how they cancelled recess that day. How we came home from Qur’an class that evening to see that footage become forever embedded in our minds; hanging over us – the planes hitting the buildings on CNN. No inkling of a even thinking what it would come to mean for us. That it was only weeks before our Qari Saab himself would be arrested as his establishment was raided.

I remember the worried looks on my parents faces all too well that day; and how in ways that mood never really lifted from over our heads. Because while that may have been just one day, just another day; we have been living with it everyday. It feels like yesterday because it was. Just like with today and probably tomorrow will too; it lives on inside of us and through us because of where we stand within that dynamic of world politics. We live with it every day because we are reminded of it every day. Because the society around us reinforces it everyday.

#NeverForget. Well, they really made sure of that.

Because our faith, our identity, my beard, her hijab- that skin we can’t shed; all became synonymous with that terror and with that date. Those three numerals. 9-1-1. They became etched in our psyches forever. We joke about it, but do you ever look at the time and it’s always somehow 9:11? It’s become ingrained into our person-hood. And while we’ve allowed for that to happen, it’s because of the moment we exist in that we cannot escape it.

We’ve grown up in the shadow of those fallen towers. With the onslaught of the War on Terror decimating our homelands abroad, which were bombarded and pulverized for retribution ( read as: resource conflicts + profits for arms dealers), while here in the West, Muslim bodies everywhere were constantly under surveillance, harassed, and policed in unprecedented ways if not at the hands of state sanctioned terror then by a ravaging mainstream media and propaganda culture, not to mention the very gaze of our neighbours.

Overnight, we all became Osama. We were all Saddam. The image of the classic pantomime villain towered over us. It was the bloodthirsty repressive, fanatical sexed savage Muslim man or the oppressed yet promiscuous Muslim woman. We were all the same but different. That old Sikh man on the bus. That little hijabi girl walking home. It made their blood boil because it reminded them of that day. It made us scared because it reminded us of that day.

Airports became the sight of panic overriding us as they called us over and patted us down and rides on the bus home became anxiety ridden as their eyes pervaded us. When your identity is ostracized as such, the mundane becomes episodic. We were targets but threats. We were to be ridiculed but feared. Fluid in what racist trope or orientalist façade (rooted in colonial discourse) we could fit into; yet singular at the same time. All and both yet neither.

And it was within this backdrop of the Terrordome (coined by Chuck D, appropriated by me into this context) that I grew up in as a Muslim immigrant trying to find myself and make sense of who I was within this archaic array of conflicting identities and cyclical news stories swirling around me. To stomp out my own narrative vs. those shoved down our throats. Regularly watching people who looked like my family killed in drone strikes or those who resembled my cousins behind yet another attack we were asked to condemn puts you in all sorts of insecurities.

So immune to the terrorist ‘jokes’ kids made at school I laughed along with them. While at home I watched my mom yelling profanities at the TV as George Bush made his latest speech on why this war against, yet another Muslim country wasn’t about Islam despite the fact that they only ever wanted to eradicate ‘jihadist elements’ or ‘radical Islamists’. So, Samuel Huntington must have been right, right? Because this us vs. them scenario was playing out in front of my eyes. How could it not be when that’s all they ever talked about on TV; special after special, report after report, hour after hour. How could I, as I grew older, look into the mirror and not see the ‘enemy’ when any vague description was all that mattered? 

And so, when people ask me ‘why are you so political?’ “Why do you even care about this stuff?” It really gets to me because I absolutely hate it. Because the majority of people see it as if our politicization was out of choice. The fact that they ask isn’t exactly what gets to me, but the fact that we really have to keep up and try to make sense of it all every single day. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. We really didn’t have a choice; it was either keep your head down, don’t make a fuss and go about your business or stand for what’s right, demand for your dignity and humanity to be recognized.

And I can’t even blame those who amidst the toxicity of shame, trauma and vilification chose to ignore it and stay far away from the politics of it all because it does get too much at times- but we really don’t have a choice in the long run. Because you could be minding your own business and one glaring look is all it takes to make you feel unwelcome and unloved. We didn’t have a choice because if we want to be who we are, we have to speak out and stand up. We didn’t have a choice because who we are, our personhood, was politicized. And it’s either you stay on top of it, or no matter what; it’ll catch up with you eventually whether you like it or not. Whether you’re political or not.

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