The Middle East I've Never Known
I’ve always been terrified of speaking up about 9/11, to the point that regardless of the opinions of the individual in front of me I could not bring it up. I was taught instantly after the tragedy that 9/11 is not mine to mourn, I had no right to it, that I was responsible for it in some way, shape, or form, and my people needed to suffer for it. I am not the only Muslim or Foreigner that has felt this way, as this message is made clear during every anniversary and days between anniversaries since that fateful day sixteen years ago. It is made clear in the messages around the day, in the expected apologies, and the constant requirement for denouncing terrorism from anyone who claims to be Muslim. It is made clear through the constant narrative that only Muslims are terrorists, that we are always at fault.
This fact is ironic, due to the fact that I, and many other Muslims, have suffered from both ends of the tragedy. We suffered on US soil, and we suffered everyday since, abroad. I have lived in the US prior to 9/11, during, and post 9/11. I have also lived in post 9/11 Canada as a response to the response of 9/11 in the US, and finally post 9/11 in the Middle East before returning to the US to be here for the last 6 anniversaries.
As children, my grandfather would tell us stories about Palestine - of the fields, of the salty Mediterranean, of the amazing food, of the neighbors from all kinds of denominations, all living in peace. As a child, my parents would tell me stories of living in Jordan, of the compassion and love individuals had for one another, of the family dynamics that withstood the test of time, and the freedom of being. They spoke of how home felt.
When I moved to the Middle East in 2006 neither of those places existed anymore. I have not seen the changes in my grandparents Palestine, but I have seen the changes in Jordan after the Iraq war. At first, I blamed myself and the rest of the Muslim communities around the world for allowing such a terrible atrocity to happen. How could we allow 9/11 to happen? At the time, I had bought into the White Supremacist narrative telling us that Muslims are not to blame but must be invaded anyways. I truly believed that it was entirely our faults.
In high school I felt so conflicted, as I had friends in the US military, and friends living in Iraq. For a time it felt like my friends were killing one another, and honestly, I didn’t know why, just that it was somehow my fault. I was not good enough to prevent it. I bought into the narrative so much so that I constantly defended US foreign policy to the individuals that were being directly impacted by it. And even as the body count rose to hundreds of thousands, and even over a million dead, I still believed that it was justifiable.
Because if it wasn’t justifiable, then what is this place I had called home for so long? The place I defended? The location I loved? What does it actually stand for if it’s willing to kill over a million people and displace exponentially more?
My family moved to Canada in response to the response of 9/11 in our home in Arizona. We moved to Jordan because the shadow of 9/11 was present even in Canada. It took me years of critical thought and learning from incredible individuals about systems of oppression to move past the shadow of 9/11. I learned why I still do not have a home, why the Palestine I had heard about no longer exists, and the Jordan my parents knew was gone. I learned why I was made to feel shame for my identities. I learned how White Supremacist policy and terrorist intervention had affected these regions, as they have in many areas around the world. I learned these things through an understanding of history, from learning about the history of the world as told from a non-White Supremacist lens. I learned from the amazing pioneers of social justice movements. I learned from Malcolm X, Bell Hooks, Maya Angelou, and hundreds of others who have critically analyzed systems of oppression and have given us the tools to overcome them. Ultimately, I was saved by People of Color.
9/11 was yet another tool in a long history of events that was used to justify White Supremacist, Patriarchal, Imperialist, Capitalist, Ableist society's intervention in the Middle East and other regions. After that day, the entire Muslim world has been changed due to these societies using 9/11 as a justification for that response. The War OF Terror has destabilized the entire region to this day. It has impacted the economy, education, health and has increased the levels of all systems of oppression. If you go to Jordan this is evident in the unstable economy that suffered greatly from the war in Iraq. Life in Jordan, and most places in the middle east was never the same during and after the war, it still isn't. 9/11 comes in a long line of tools used for this, just like the War on Drugs before it, Black Protection for Jim Crowe laws, USS Maine (ACR-1) for the Spanish-American war, Christianity for slavery, and many more. The effects of these tools is still felt today, and some of these tools are still present today, such as the use of the War on Drugs as a way for oppressing POC, Christianity as a way to promote bigotry, and many more.
The point I am trying to make is that 9/11 ultimately is a tool, a tool for control, for the continued oppression of People of Color everywhere, and also a tool of control to make sure that the privileged populations here are so sold onto these systems, without ever hearing these words, that they allow these forms of oppression. There are very few white and other privileged populations that will tell you the Afghanistan War was a war of terror and not a war against terror. More will tell you that the Iraq war was bad but won’t want to discuss any of the systems that made it possible. We do not want to talk about where it stemmed from, or how we want to fix things. Ultimately, that is the my September 11 Muslim story for many Muslims whether they want to acknowledge it or not. This is the same story that we have known for hundreds of years. 9/11 is just another tool to dehumanize, to terrorize, and oppress POC. It is a tool to steal resources, for control of nations, and the spread of the US Empire and other Western Empires (almost all Anglo-Saxon countries are empires). What we don’t do is link 9/11 to programs like DACA, to our current prison pipeline. We don’t want to link it to our welfare policies, to education, or any systems that seemed to magically become less accessible once POC were permitted to have them. So on and so forth. Ultimately, the conversation needs to stop being around how healing and forgetting about 9/11 is an end to everything. 9/11 did not start anything, and healing from 9/11 will not end anything. If 9/11 had never happened, we would still be in the exact same place we are today.
So, what can we do now? Millions are dead, tens of millions are displaced, but believe it or not that’s not even the worst of it. This is another tool in a long line of tools that have controlled every aspect of our lives. It has made 2 billion people marginalized just with the War on Terror alone, and nearly 7 billion POC worldwide out of 7.5 Billions.
SO, to act, we must address the White Supremacy within our society:
Here are a few ways to Resist:
- Discuss what White Supremacy is with your groups and others you feel safe around.
- Understand how White Supremacy affects our everyday lives.
- Digest the difference between Systemic Oppression and a single, bigoted individual.
- Examine your own role in upholding White Supremacy. Have you worked to remove the White Supremacy you were raised with out of your life? If you have not done so then you still carry an immense amount of White Supremacy.
- Critically analyze the privilege you gain from the oppression of others.
- Really think about the effect of the destruction of white supremacy in your life. What does a world without White Supremacy look like for you? How will that affect your job, your family, your education, your role in society?
- Center the voices that are stifled due to systemic oppression. Invite POC to lead critical thought events, and not just individuals willing to sell you the same White Supremacist Narrative.
These are a few things you can start doing this very moment. Please keep in mind that Millions of POC are calling attention to this every single day. Listen to us.
9/11 was 16 years ago, but this is a system that has been alive and well for hundreds of years, and we should let the shadow of that tragedy prevent us from seeing beyond it.
This is my #MySept11MuslimStory