I arrived in America at Kennedy Airport in 1970 en route to Detroit — barely noticing the Twin Towers rising against the Manhattan skyline.
The north tower wouldn’t be completed until that December; the south tower took another year. Thirty years later, men claiming to profess my faith destroyed those American icons, along with thousands of innocent lives.
Until that point, Muslims like me who came to America were quietly pursuing the American dream. I met my wife in graduate school; we started a business upon graduation. Citizenship, a suburban home and kids soon followed. America became home. I was able to give back to our community.
I was appointed to the Michigan Community Service Commission, elected to our local school board, cofounded a mosque and became active in the Republican Party.
9/11 Like First Day of New Calendar
Sept. 11, 2001, became the first day of a new calendar: two wars, the passage of the Patriot Act, new terror threats followed by Homeland Security alerts, rampant profiling, and FBI counterterrorism investigations. The result: American Muslims are viewed as a suspect community — their constitutional rights violated with impunity in far too many cases.
I stepped up my outreach, building interfaith coalitions, working with law enforcement for our security while protecting our rights, and promoting better relationships with neighbors, civic leaders and government agencies while standing up for my faith.
After 20 years, the 9/11 anniversary is overshadowed by the Afghan tragedy. Many Americans, too young to remember that infamous day, sacrificed their lives in the wars that followed, along with an untold number of innocent Iraqi, Syrian and Afghan civilian victims.
I think of our own experience that day. The world had changed before our eyes. We watched these attacks in real time. We could not stop watching the TV images. The staccato effect of the looped videos was a drumbeat of unthinkable carnage. People already were comparing this to Pearl Harbor.
I thought of the Quran’s famous admonition to save innocent lives — and its condemnation of killing innocents. Taking one innocent life was the killing of “all humankind.” This must be close to that: Untold numbers were dead. Giant landmarks were falling. We were witnessing mass destruction in real time.
I was worried about backlash. Upon returning from high school, our hijab-wearing daughter said, “People weren’t mean, but they had a lot of questions. Her brother, a senior at the same school where she was a junior, has a similar recollection: “I was just shocked, but what these extremists did, it doesn’t cancel out the whole Muslim people.”
Muslim Americans also died that day. Her older brother, a senior in college, remembers: “At first, I didn’t believe a Muslim did it. Then, when they came out with the news that it was, I was pretty upset.”
A New Prayer for Muslims
“Oh, God, let it not be a Muslim!” That’s a new prayer Muslims have learned to pray any time headlines pop up about an explosion or mass shooting since the 1995 terrorist attack that blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring more than 680. That condemnable attack was the act of domestic terrorism, but Muslims were hit with a tidal wave of hatred; media pundits jumped on the conclusion it was a Muslim who did it.
I was thankful when President George W. Bush, at a mosque, firmly expressed the view: “These acts of violence against innocents violate fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And, it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.” He paraphrased the Quran’s basic principle, 30:10, condemning violence against innocents: “In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil.”
Media coverage is generally accurate, except when terror attacks or another crisis like the one in Afghanistan focus on the accompanying stereotypical images. With the Taliban in the news, Muslims are concerned again about reporting that magnifies Islamophobia. Terms like Sharia law, Islamic fundamentalism, treatment of women by Muslims are finding their way into media outlets.
What Should 9/11 Day Be?
Even as we faced challenges, a Pew Research Center report finds that four in five Muslim Americans say they’re concerned but satisfied with the way things are going in their lives, and nine in ten say they are proud to be American and are contributing members of the society.
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 should be a day of service — a day to work alongside my neighbors in acts of kindness. It is a time for reflection, remembrance and recommitting to the values that define our nation.
Victor Begg, Hutchinson Island, is the author of the 2019 book, “Our Muslim Neighbors—Achieving the American Dream; An Immigrant’s Memoir.”
(Source: TC Palm, USA Today Network)