I just finished watching the "docudrama" on ABC, The Path to 9/11. I don't intend to review this movie today, but watching it along with the rest of the media attention focused on the events of September 2001 forces each one of us to reflect on that day and the five years since then. For me, the attacks came at a critical point in my life, my senior year in high school, and its aftermath would shape my college life and career as no other events could.
Like most people, I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard about what happened. I remember how I felt and how the people around me felt. I cannot forget those moments of shock, confusion, and fear that came over me on that day. I remember the school I attended, a private Arabic/Islamic school, had to be evacuated immediately. We stayed home for a week fearing some crazy lunatic would blow up the school after receiving many threats. I remember seeing the first images of the towers online, then getting in my car and listening to reports already speculating about bin Laden's responsibility. Of course, from the beginning I had prayed the terrorists would not be Arabs or Muslims, but hearing bin Laden's name put everything in perspective. I remember coming home and watching the towers fall over and over again, and crying my eyes out for hours.
For my parents and grandparents and others from their generations, 9/11 does not have the same impact as it did on my generation. They have witnessed Arab-Israeli wars, the Cold War, and other major events that had a great impact on history. For a 17 year old at the time, nine-eleven is a defining moment in their lives. For a 17 year old Arab and Muslim girl living in the suburbs of Washington D.C., nine-eleven is a much more defining moment. It is a time when we might question our identity, our allegiances, and our people.
This is the age when American teens head off to college to begin a life on their own, independent of their families. They are given the freedom to explore and discover what is out there, the good, the bad and the ugly. I grew up knowing a lot about what went on around me and asking even more questions. I knew of the Intifadas, of the Berlin Wall, of Bosnia, of Iraqi sanctions. I wasn't a sheltered teenager by any means as my parents encouraged my interest in world affairs. I wanted to be a journalist to write about all the political happenings in the world.
It was not only the 9/11 attacks that began to shape my worldview as I entered the doors of university, but more so the events that followed. The aftermath and the consequences of the terrorist attacks are imprinted in my memory just like the events of 9/11/01. I cannot forget the day Kabul fell, the day Bush announced the invasion of Iraq, and the day Baghdad fell. I remember the fear my community lived in in the months after the attacks. Everything is political here when you are this close to D.C. This is not small town America.
In the months to come, friends would be profiled, others would be arrested without charge, searched without warrants, and some convicted without evidence. Justice is a word that would no longer have much weight in my dictionary. The PATRIOT Act would make it an illusive hope.
As I watched the movie, I wondered how long I would have to feel this hopelessness. As much as I would like to think I'm an optimistic person, the reality of today continues to slap me in the face. I had hope in the anti-war protests before the Iraqi invasion. The millions of people around the country and around the world who stood up and said no inspired me. The Muslims around the world who lit candles and prayed for the 9/11 victims reassured me that this was not the end. There is still some good out there. But today, you'd be hard pressed Muslims who would only remember 9/11 without remembering the rape of Iraq. Still fresh in their memory is the burning and the destruction in Lebanon. The starving children of Gaza.
Will anything I say or do even make a difference? Where do these people come from anyway like Zawahiri and Atta? They address me as a Muslim and tell me to take revenge on America. I want to take revenge on them for making 9/11 a defining moment in my life instead of a more positive event that I could always remember. I feel sorry for the young ones out there that might listen to them and act upon what they hear. I also feel sorry for the young American soldiers in Iraq who are acting upon what they hear from Bush and Rumsfeld. I fear that they will throw away their lives for what they think is a good cause, just like the young Muslims out there who might think that flying themselves into buildings is for a good cause. They are no longer able to think for themselves, to reflect on their actions, and the consequences of those actions. They alone will be held accountable, but they simply do not understand how their actions will impact the lives of millions of people around the world.
Again, will anything I say or do even make a difference? I am student of international politics, conflict resolution, and Middle East studies. Will any of this help if another war is about to be unleashed? If another terrorist attack is about to take place?
I can only pray that my limited yet hopefully uncorrupted knowledge and practice of Islam will make a difference somehow. I'm not going to be just another American or just another young Arab easily recruited by politicians and terrorists alike. I am my own person, I was granted a brain to reflect with and a body to use to make a difference in this world.
I will do just that, with all the power I have and the rest is up to Him.
We all should.