Reflections on 9/11, Part 1

This weekend is a unique one.  Today, Muslims are celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan.  Tomorrow, Americans of all faiths will mourn the ninth anniversary of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

It seems quite ironic that these two days–arguably the most significant days for Muslims in America and around the world–fall on the same weekend.  Clearly, these days are important for different reasons.  Ramadan and Eid mark a time of self-sacrifice, community, friendship, and peace for Muslims, while the anniversary of September 11th marks a day of slaughter and the beginning of a trend of fear, suspicion, and division.  At a time during which Muslims are celebrating the vitality of their peaceful community, many in America are using Islam’s (distant but exaggerated) connection to the September 11 attacks to cast a shadow of fear and mistrust over the religion and its people.

The fact that this holiday and day of memorial fall on the same weekend–that they are connected and unable to be separated–is symbolic of the relationship between the Muslim community (here and abroad) and post-9/11 America.  One cannot be understood without the other.

The occurrence of these two events on the same weekend offers me the perfect opportunity to address many of my recent concerns about America’s response to Islam in the post-9/11 world.

I’ll break up my thoughts into three topics and post them over three days:

PAST: Today, on September 10th, I’ll discuss the U.S. reaction to 9/11 and the steady increase of Islamophobia over the past nine years.

PRESENT: Tomorrow, on September 11th, I’ll discuss this current moment of crisis in the relationship between Islam and post-9/11 America.  I’ll specifically make comments about the recent events like the Park 51 controversy, planned Qur’an burning, hate crimes, etc.

FUTURE: On Sunday, September 12th, I’ll talk about the actions that we as individuals and as a country must take in order to reverse this trend of Islamophobia, and I’ll offer a historical example after which we can model our actions now and in the future.

I urge you to share your views as well, or at least give yourself some time to think about these issues.

9/10: Looking at the past nine years

In my International Relations lecture last week, the professor asked my classmates and I to identify the event that first caused us to think about international relations–the event that made us realize there was a bigger world outside our city or country.  I, along with over half of the class, responded that September 11, 2001 was this event.

Though we didn’t realize it as 10-year-old fifth graders, the attacks would greatly change the spirit and culture of our country.  Before the attacks, Americans were confident about our country’s rising status and power in the world.  With the fall of the Soviets 10 years before and a booming economy, it seemed nothing could stand in our way.

On September 11th that changed.  It appeared that our way of life was being challenged by a mysterious and hostile entity.  The climate of confidence reversed completely, becoming one defined by fear.  Suspicion and judgement were tools we were urged by our government to use, or else we’d risk being attacked again.  A pall of xenophobia began to descend slowly over our country as foreigners and even citizens of Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage were questioned about their patriotism and motives.

This climate of fear prevented our country from having a much needed national discussion about the key question surrounding the attacks: Why did this happen? If this question had been grappled with–if knowledgeable scholars, journalists, activists, and civilians had been consulted–then the second important question, “What can we do to prevent this from happening again?” might have been answered in a way that didn’t result in two foreign wars that have only increased hostility toward the U.S.

One thing that didn’t change on 9/11 (something that desperately needed to change) was American ignorance, and our tendency to act on that ignorance.  Before 9/11 we were unaware the implications of our policy decisions in the Middle East and South Asia, and how often those military and political actions produced feelings of anti-American sentiment in the places we affected.  Today is no different; we act without real forethought and with little knowledge.  Except today our actions are not driven so much by confidence but by fear, which is a much more dangerous motivator.

Our fear prevents us from learning how to better conduct our foreign policy, but even more problematic is how it affects our daily interactions with and perceptions of our fellow Americans.  The fear that stemmed from 9/11 encourages us to continue living in ignorance–to not learn about and not reach out to those who may appear to fit the ethnic or religious profile of a “terrorist”. We cling to our old notions, or ones fed to us by prominent politicians who fear-monger in order to maintain or regain power.  The media simultaneously magnifies and mystifies issues surrounding Islam through its 24-hour coverage that somehow still fails to provide in-depth and balanced information.  This news coverage only reinforces our incorrect stereotypes.

This ignorance propped up by fear has allowed many Americans to believe that Islam the religion perpetrated 9/11.  Many are unable to make the distinction between those who hijacked religion in an attempt to justify a political cause with those who practice that religion in order to serve God and neighbor.  Because of their fear, they refuse to take a close look at Islam and subsequently come to false conclusions about this religion of 1.5 billion people.

9/11 offered us an important opportunity for expelling this ignorance and we failed to take advantage of it.  Instead we only allowed it to grow quietly and slowly.  It wasn’t right after 9/11 that I heard anti-Islamic remarks from acquaintances, received anti-Islamic emails from family friends, and heard broad generalizations and unfair associations spewed by politicians.  It was several years down the road that the Islamophobia began to make its way out of the woodwork (at least in my experience.) This trend of American Islamophobia has been rising over the past decade, but it moved quietly, subtly and slowly.  Only during the past summer has it exploded into full view, as politicians hope to bring out and harness this fear in order to regain power in the fall elections.

A national discussion about Islam in post-9/11 America has begun, but the dialogue seems to be increasing tensions rather than alleviating them.  And sadly this discussion is happening nine years too late.

Also, I’d like to wish “Eid Mubarak” to all of my Muslim friends, especially those here at Georgetown University.

5 Replies to “Reflections on 9/11, Part 1”

  1. What Islamophobia? There is hardly any in the USA. You have an Imam unwilling to label a terrorist organization, a terrorist organization – Hamas, plus he and the contractors are pouring salt on the wounds of 9/11 victims families by building a mosque with an Islamic center on Ground Zero ( Yes, I say Ground Zero because wherever planes hit and landed is conisidered Ground Zero) Bible’s being considered “trash” and those Bibles being burned overseas by our military nonetheless, so I see the responses to these provocations as legitimate. Islamic extremists murdered 3000 innocents on 9/11 and to think that it is good to put a victory sign to the Muslim world is being ultra insensitive at the very least. I find it quite uncanny or ironic that those who spew hatred and villify Traditional Chistianity, and who want the removal of all things religious in our society are now standing up for Muslims who follow Sharia law and have no seperation of Church and State. Muslims have not reached out to the West, said I am sorry for the September 11th Attacks and done a single thing to build bridges with the West or America. The most intolerant religion is demanding tolerance and yet they won’t respect the wishes and sensitivities of the American people and move the mosque. They are fueling the flames and causing grave emotional harm to Americans, are asking for a fight and many are saying bring it on. How many moderate Muslims have you seen speak out against 9/11 and other terrorist attacks? I haver not seen many Muslims speak out. So, you would have us be weak and lie down like a dog and take a beatings instead of fighting these Muslim extremists. Both the Iraq War and Afghanistan War are good wars in which we are standing up for freedom and spreading freedom and liberating people from tyranny. Yes, we were much safer in 2008 then in 2001 since the United States no longer had a law enforcement mentality and we recognized our enemy and were willing to fight against that evil. How many terrorists do you think our troops killed while overseas? They saved the United States from feeling the wrath of many terrorists. Now, with Obama in office it is a totally different story. He is the appeaser of our enemies and they are taking advantage of his being weak. Fear is both natural and healthy especially when attacked as we were on September 11th, 2001. But, some seem to have forgotten 9/11. I will never forget 9/11. The September 11th attacks were worse than the attacks on Pearl Harbor and very similar but some refuse to see our enemy as our enemy and our treating our enemies as friends and friends as if they were enemies.

    God rest all those souls who were murdered on September 11, 2001.

    1. Thank you so much for your lengthy response. I want this to be a place where people can share their views, even if I fiercely disagree with them. I was planning to address some of the claims you make in my post for today, so rather than responding to you here, I’ll do that in my writing later today. But, I am curious, from where do you typically receive your information about Islam? What news sources? And what contact have you had with the religion’s people in your daily life, aside from seeing and hearing stories about radicals on TV?

  2. I follow quite a variety of news sources which include – Salon, The New York Times, Fox News, The Daily Caller, The Washington Post, Culture War Notes, The Huffington Post and others. I weigh the facts, opinions, and then make my own decision on the political matter. As far as Islam goes, I am learning more about Islam and the faith each day.

    I have read your post addressing the insensitivity argument and will respond to you soon.

    1. Thanks a lot. I look forward to hearing your take on the insensitivity argument and what you have learned about Islam. Also, to avoid confusion, you (Teresa) and the Teresa I mentioned in my post are two different bloggers.

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