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Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? I do. I was in the 4th grade, sitting in class like every other day. I remember my teachers running around frantic and scared. A couple of hours into the school day and no instruction had taken place. Then the principal came over the PA system and announced the school was closing for the day. I didn’t know why, and they didn’t tell us either. I remember walking through the front door of my house, excited that we were sent home before lunch. That smile and laughter faded as soon as I took two steps into my home and I saw the TV screen. Images and videos of airplanes crashing into buildings. I knew something awful happened, but I couldn’t fully grasp what it meant. That day, the images, the feelings I had are still as vivid to me today as they were almost two decades ago.

September 11, 2001

One day in history but one day that changed the course of my life. I spent years hearing and reliving that day. Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, peers, and teachers took every chance to talk about it and blame the Muslim population as a whole. I grew to despise an entire population that I had never heard of before that day. I was so enraged at them for what they did to us that I joined the United States Marine Corps and left for boot camp the day after high school graduation.

I joined for justice but what I got in return was peace, forgiveness, and understanding. Do not get me wrong, I still cry like a baby thinking about that day and the families that were torn apart. Every year, I still go to a 9/11 ceremony, and my heartaches. I feel a knot in my chest every time I hear “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson (2002) but for very different reasons today. It wasn’t until I graduated boot camp and got to my first duty station that I began to see things differently. The military is a different kind of lifestyle and it’s not one I can really put into words, but the one thing I can explain is that we are all brothers and sisters. One of my brothers was Muslim and I didn’t even know it. One day, a group of us got started on the topic of why we joined the military in the first place. One brother mentioned 9/11 and then everyone started in on their own stories of that day. When our brother mentioned he was Muslim, after hearing enough jokes and insults of his nation and people, the room fell silent. He left. I didn’t talk to him for a few weeks. I was so mad. I kept wondering how in the world could someone that started this war be able to call themselves my brother, pick up a gun, and fight next to me. Then one day it hit me, it wasn’t his fault. Yes, people who claimed his religion did those awful things, but he was just as innocent on that day as I was.

September 11, 2001

That day changed my entire life and the lives of millions of Americans, but I never stopped to think about how it changed the Muslim population too. We weren’t the only ones now living in fear and pain. The actions of a handful of people changed their lives too. In the article, “Being Muslim and American: Turkish-American children negotiating their religious identities in school settings,” Isik-Ercan speaks of the hardships that Muslims face in American schools, especially since 9/11. Muslim Americans were no longer considered Americans after that day. They were all labeled as terrorists. The teachers and schools only add to this problem. There is not a single time that I can recall where my teachers talked about that day without using the words Muslim and terrorists simultaneously. Muslim students were demonized (Isik-Ercan, 2015) from that day in 2001 and still are to this day. Open an American textbook and I am almost certain that you will find “radical Islamic terrorism” somewhere in there, which teaches students that the words Islam and Muslims go simultaneously with terrorism and violence against Americans. “Muslims are terrorists.” A simple sentence that shaped my mind for many years until I realized that the problem wasn’t with Muslims. The problem is with our education system.

September 11, 2001

That day changed my life. That day set me on a path to actively seek the truth about history and to be the change that I want to see in the world.

REFERENCES

Isik-Ercan, Z. (2015). Being Muslim and American: Turkish-American children negotiating their religious identities in school settings. Race Ethnicity and Education, 18(2), 225–250.

Senior at University of California, Riverside. Majoring in Education, Society, and Human Development: Community leadership, Policy, and Social Justice