9/11: Growing Up a Reactionary Youth

Monday, September 12, 2011

I went back and forth about whether to write a post about 9/11. In some ways, it is an insignificant day to me - at the time, I was 9 years old and believed that the next target was going to be the Space Needle, which was the only important tall building I could conceptualize in my West Coast upbringing. But it also marked an important turn for the relationship I and my family have to this country. In my work, in my daily life, the specter of that date 10 years ago hangs over me.

I am a Muslim woman, but at that point in time I wasn't cognizant of it. We were not a religious family, and that was a fine thing in my youth. But the label was still on me. Though I could have theoretically passed as a Hindu (because of the common stereotype that all South Asian people are of that religion), I never wanted to hide the fact of my religious affiliation. The conception of Islam that I have now was formed out of a defense for it.

I believe that 9/11 made me a stronger Muslim over time just simply because of the backlash Muslims received after that point. In small ways, I would speak up to my middle school and high school peers as a representative of Islam that ran counter to the terrorist/oppressed stereotypes that ran (and still run) rampant in the media.

It was a challenge. Having to be "the good Muslim" meant that I had to have some tough conversations and learn fast - having not come from a religious background, I needed to read up on Islam to have adequate material to back my claims up. I am constantly tired by the black and white view people propagate about Muslims, especially Muslim women, and so I fought it. I let my opinions be known about the political turmoil going on around us and began my work towards social justice.

And, in that way, I have to ask myself this question: Was it because of 9/11 that I became the outspoken Muslim activist that I am today? Would these seeds have developed if I had not faced adversity and challenges in youth?

I can never answer for sure, but I do know that anger motivates people to act. It motivated me, post-9/11, to translate my fear of retribution from others into anger against their treatment of me and my fellow Muslims. While I was advised to hide my faith away, I instead let my words and actions fly in the face of those who would silence them. For good or for ill, I have been changed by the facts of 9/11 in a way that no one could have expected on that date 10 years ago.

Want to know more about my activism? Read about my opinions on feminist topics and my work with the Washington Bus.