9/11 Identity Crisis

Being only two years old when the towers fell, I am not too familiar with a world that does not demonize Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, or anyone with Brown skin/Muslim faith, and growing up there was always this question mark in the back of my mind, “Who was I?” After 9/11 my culture was erased, I was expected to give up any ties I had to my heritage, and from the moment I walked into a room, I was forever to be automatically considered a foreigner. Yes I am American, but not enough, and I would forever be proving my American-ness to those around me.

Jess Talwar created the hashtag #AfterSeptember11 amplifying the voices of Muslims, Arabs, and Desis and sharing their narratives regarding racism, islamophobia, and xenophobia after 9/11. The tweets brought attention to the lives lost, the cultural ties broken, and the struggles we faced; although the non-Muslim/Arab/Desi readers of the tweets now (hopefully) have a better understanding of the devastating affects of 9/11 on young Brown lives, they’ll never fully grasp what it felt like to lose our identity, our own culture, and the feeling of safety.

Always feeling as if I were an outsider made me question what my home even meant to me. This country relishes in the false idea cultures are celebrated together in harmony, but after 9/11 those beautiful differences were wiped out; Give up, keep quiet, and assimilate or face further ostracization. September eleventh was not the beginning of islamophobia and racism, but the event intensified hate towards our various communities. Muslim girls had to remove their hijabs, Sikh men had to cut their hair, mother-tongues were forgotten, customs were not practiced, and the desire to become blonde-haired, blue-eyed, or all-American became an actual aspiration. Realizing from a young age that we were not granted safety or security, I was forced to mature earlier. I became always cautious of my words, my actions, my presence. Sometimes it was safer to lie about my identity than to be honest and fear the response I would receive.

People wanted me to apologize for the terrorist attacks; they wanted people like me, innocent or not, to pay for the deaths we did not cause; they wanted us to turn against our culture to prove our solidarity. In safe spaces, like schools, kids now feared their peers and even their administrators. Till this day, we cannot question our home country, because from the moment we criticize this nation, we are a “unpatriotic” or a “threat”; we anger those who are so certain of their mindsets and beliefs that they won’t even consider the questions we bring up.

The same bitter people who deny us our identity are the ones who are quick to censor our accounts of hardships faced in a post-9/11 world. Why do we act as if the tragedy cannot be discussed in more than one way? Why is our perspective is always neglected?

Each of our experiences with islamophobia/xenophobia after 9/11 are different, and I do not want anyone to click out of this tab thinking we all dealt/deal with the same problems. Some of us dealt with losses of our loved ones, some had to leave our homes, some of us were tormented, and some may have not even felt anything, but we know that the effects of the event that occurred on this day fourteen years ago are still in place. To this day, we are still fighting wars because of 9/11. Communities, prayer places, and people are still suffering from hate crimes because of mindsets that developed after of 9/11. Fear of Muslims, Arabs, and Desis still lingers in the mind of many.

The moment people take a step back from their animosity, consider the various manifestations in which 9/11 affected different people/groups, and begin to question what they were indoctrinated to believe, we can begin to start to resolve this vicious cycle, but as of right now, fourteen years after the attacks, the Muslim/Arab/Desi communities have seen no drastic changes in the way we are regarded.

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