Reflections On 9/11 As A Muslim In America

Reflections On 9/11 As A Muslim In America

This past weekend, many Americans commemorated the tenth anniversary of September 11th. Some retold the stories of losing loved ones amidst the constant buzz of news stations replaying the images and sounds of planes hitting buildings. Others celebrated the vicious assassination of Osama bin Laden and death of Saddam Hussein as proof that we are, in the inspirational words of George W., “kicking ass” in the War on Terror. Underlying all this pageantry was an almost cultish romanticization of American democracy and freedom. But these commemorative moments of neologistic patriotism were not felt equally by all: for me and other brown-skinned Muslims, Arabs, and look-alikes in this country, our memories of 9/11 have been clouded by what has happened since that fateful day.

The day after airplanes full of civilians from my homeland were hijacked and crashed by terrorists from my motherland, I arrived at Portage West Middle School to find that my locker had been broken into and most of my belongings stolen. Later on in the day, I was asked to report to the Vice Principal’s office, where most of my belongings were strewn across the floor. Whatever remained of my overpriced but underused graphing calculator, extensive collection of rainbow gel pens, and outdated textbooks was beyond repair. In what was most likely a pre-pubescent frenzied mess of patriotic post-9/11 R.A.T.M. (Rage Against The Muslim), my things were smothered in and dragged through the mud in the woods behind my school, where a jogger eventually found them. Absent any evidence at all, the school administrator proceeded to accuse me of staging the hate crime as an attention-seeking ploy, implying that I was a twelve-year old sociopath.

I was nothing of the sort – at least not then. If I did suffer from anything remotely pathological, it was shame for my name. Born on the eve of the Gulf War, my parents named me Hussain, and so my first grade peers nicknamed me Saddam. I was even asked by my fourth grade teacher to explain to our social studies class the Arabic translation of “Saddam” – because I was named Hussain, like Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator who was both partner to and victim of U.S. American political powerbrokering.

I know now that I am also named Hussain, like Hussein ibn Ali (RA), the youngest grandson of the prophet Muhammad (S). Hussain, like Barack Hussein Obama, the first black man to be elected President of a country that was built on the stolen sweat and tears of black bondspeople and felons. Hussain, like the name printed on the boarding ticket that is always ‘randomly’ selected for special security screening. Hussain, like the faded, muddied Hussain that I had etched in powder blue gel ink onto the back of the calculator that I supposedly trashed for added attention – as if an outspoken, dark-skinned, flamboyantly gay Muslim pre-teen named Hussain living in a mostly white, mostly straight, mostly Christian Midwestern city needed any “added attention.”

But the added attention that Muslims have since been paid is anything but a feigned distraction. It has ranged from the resurgence of fringe racial epithets like sand nigger and camel jockey to the random TSA strip-searching of teenage Muslim hijabis to the democracy-building military occupation of Muslim countries in the Middle East. This has all been justified, or at least rationalized, as the collateral damage of the War on Terror – a war declared in supposed defense of American freedom in the days following 9/11. Many Americans felt united and whole in this War on Terror, which they saw as a godly pursuit in the name of democracy and liberty. Many felt proud to be free and united against the perceived existential threat to American existence. But for me, for the hundreds of Muslims imprisoned and tortured at Gitmo, and for the thousands more that lived in fear of being indefinitely detained, freedom has been forever tarnished by what happened on 9/11 and the decade that followed.

What I most remember of those days was being twelve years-old and blamed by my Vice Principal for trashing my own belongings for attention on the day after people with my name, skin color and religion attacked the country I was born in. I remember feeling a confounding sense of guilt and shame each time the media replayed video clips of airplanes colliding into buildings. I remember being made to feel responsible. I remember the odd but subtle clicks in dial tone and abrupt breaks in conversation on my family’s home phone line. I remember praying for the safety of my family and friends overseas – for my ummah, my Muslim community – during the initial U.S. American military strikes on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. I remember drinking chai with my nine year old Iraqi friend Hamza, who had travelled to the U.S. to be fitted with a prosthetic limb after his leg and intestines had been blown off by an American missile. I remember being detained when I flew through my homeland’s capital to attend my namesake’s Presidential inauguration in 2008. I also remember being detained when I drove to Springfield, Illinois to visit Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Museum on the 144th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. I remember being told to “go home” when I was in my own backyard.

These memories will not fade, but they can be improved. In a decade from now, I hope to be able to commemorate 9/11 the way most mainstream Americans have: without feeling guilty for practicing my faith; without feeling the threat of impending detainment for having a certain type of name; without feeling like I have to apologize on behalf of my community for not “reaching out” to the rest of U.S. America. Until then I can only pray for a new version of freedom that is worth defending, one that does not equivocate murder with justice; a version of freedom that is open to a world undivided by militarized borders; a version of freedom that the thousands of U.S. Americans and tens of thousands of Muslims who perished on and since 9/11 would be honored to have died for. Or even better, a version of freedom that no one must die for.

Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Illahi Raji’oon – to Allah we belong, and to Her we shall return.

Hussain Turk holds a B.A. from Kalamazoo College in Political Science with specializations in modern and contemporary political theories of radical feminist and racial liberation. He now serves as Program Coordinator for the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership in Kalamazoo, MI. As an activist, he is most passionate about building racial solidarity and community across different non-white racial and ethnic identities, and organizing around social injustices that affect queer people of color. In his free time, Hussain enjoys fitness and exercise, traveling, and pretending to talk on his mobile phone while singing in the car


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  1. Gal says:

    That’s all nice, and I am sure there are alot of innocent muslims out there that suffer for nothing.
    but what about all of those who share your faith, and make other life miserable ?
    what about jews who can’t walk the streets of sweeden with a kipa with out getting beaten in daylight, what about woman being raped by muslims immigrants in europe ?
    what about your so called “freedom fighters ” ?
    if you chose to believe in a faith, that has radical people in it, whom destroy the life of others, and I’m not talking about 9\11
    there are some who would fight back
    you may get your stuff thrown, but I almost died here :

    when I was 8 years old, what an 8 years old ever done to the muslims or the arabs ?

    you may get laughed at, buy I have Yellow badge in my momss closet, belogned to my grandma, that after the suffring that all her family, and her people went through, muslims didnt let them have a tiny peice of land, which they were willing to share.

    I hope most muslims are like you, inoccent, but in my world it looks different.

    pleace answer me, I left my email

    peace and love from Israel,

  2. Hussain Turk says:

    Dear Gal,

    At least your mother has a closet in which to store such an unfortunate memory of your people’s oppression. But the closet of which you speak is built on that “tiny piece of land” that Israel, with the financial and military backing of Great Britain and the U.S., has colonized – despite protest from both Muslim and Christian Palestinians, and much of the world at that. For your religious “democracy” to exist as it does today tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians have been reduced to refugee status, and they have no home, no closet of their own, to store the memory of their oppression.

    Although your grandmother suffered a violent and cruel discrimination I wouldn’t wish on any community, I cannot help but wonder about what and whose forgotten memories lie beneath the foundation of the home that houses the closet in which your mother has safely and securely stored your grandmother’s badge. Those are the memories that, for me, matter most.

    • Gal says:

      Dear Hussain

      Maybe you should get your facts straight, after the holocuast, two years, the british didnt want jews to come here, but the U.N declared that their should be 2 nation to 2 people, the jews said “groovy”, that arab nation attacked
      we won, that’s why they dont have a place of their own, they wanted it all for themselfs and got nothing in the end.
      5 countriers, with their great armys attacking the jewish settlement, people that just survived the holocust.
      and I leave here, believe me arabs people leave good here, and the Israeli goverment gives milions of shekels each year to gaza, but I guess you wont hear about this kind of things over at your media
      maybe if you looked deeper into the truth you would find out whose to blame.

  3. Bockin says:

    To begin, I’d like to admit that I am an idealist. This basically translates to having really dumb misconceptions about how the world *should* work, but just doesn’t seem to. This means that if you attempt to argue with me, I’m unlikely to respond if you fill your argument with logical fallacies, *ahem* Wikipedia articles, or worse, something that constitutes about 98% ethical and emotional appeal, and about 2% actual logic. On that note, since this is obviously an emotional argument for the author (to whom I am responding of course), I know that I probably typed all of that for nothing. But I thought I might as well put it out there.

    The unfortunate thing about our world is that people can only hear the guys in the front, or at least the ones who are loudest. By this, we assume that each misconception about religions are usually garnered from the most radical and outwardly aggressive group within that religion. I’m Christian, so anyone who has heard about Christians to any varying degree knows we are most commonly disagreeable on so many subjects, it would take far too long to list them all. Most would call this valid reason to hate Christians, but I call this sorting out people and deciding how to treat them, regardless of who that person is. In your case, even if that person is a child with no connections or ties towards a radical movement that ends up killing quite a few people, and not just here in America.

    I fear that by choosing to actually be a person, we are all going to offend SOMEBODY. That is the horrible truth of living, and if you try to avoid making everyone angry, they’ll probably tell you to get off your high-horse and start being a better man, because obviously, you’re doing something wrong.

    Anyway, regardless of all of that, I think that racial inequality isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Everyone is represented by their own radicals, who are by far the loudest people that represent a small aspect of what we may or may not believe or even agree with. Being a Christian, I am truly, honestly sorry that a lot of mine believe you are evil by association. In the end, we live in a free country, and I respect you and your ability to believe in what from your perspective is truth. God Bless.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator who was both partner to and victim of U.S. American political powerbrokering.” Oh yeah poor poor Saddam. What about his gassing of the Kurdish people Mr. Champion of Human Rights? Oh i bet that was the U.S. or Israel’s fault. Funny how you seem to ignore the plight of the Kurds, who by the way are as mistreated if not more so than the Palestineans (by other Muslims it is important to note–I guess when its not Jews doing it it must not raise your ire as much, huh?).
    You are so racist and hateful yourself, how can you go around claiming to have some sort of moral high ground when you are just as ignorant as the people you trash? The quality of your writing was cringe-worthy before, it certainly hasn’t changed.

  5. Reece says:

    Most people can only reply “oh yeah what about what I have been told!” Conjecture, absent of conviction or intellect. It is sorrowful that Americans have lost the capacity for object clear intelligent thought. Everything we know is propagandized into our minds. Many white “Christian” supposedly straight Americans have bombed and murdered more than the quantity killed September 2001. Yet these neologistical egomaniacs to this day they oppose, repudiate, or take responsibility for the crimes and celebrate in the ill-gotten gains. In fact they have used the tragedies to solidify and entrance the very hate they proclaim to detest.

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