September 11th, 2001.
The events of that day affected the daily lives of not just those in the US but also of countless people all over the world, in both subtle & not so subtle ways.
10 years later, the repercussions are still being felt but in all this time no voice has been given to the average moderate Muslim.
What follows is a transcript from an interview with a friend of mine, who has a Muslim background, on this broad topic of 9/11.
It was held on Saturday, June 11th, 2011.
Shortly after 9/11, a backlash against Muslims & those having a Middle-Eastern or South Asian appearance began in the form of hate crimes like verbal abuse, threats & vandalism.
In the days, weeks, months & years following the events of 9/11 what have you yourself encountered, either positive or negative, in the behaviour of people towards you ?
Was there for example a sudden change in the way people talked to you or treated you despite your of because of your background ?
Friend: Well, I’m not really sure about their motivation to behave differently. But yeah, you did notice a certain change in behaviour because at a certain point I had to do an internship as part of the study.
My middle name is Muhammad, so that’s what I proudly put on my resume.
X-Mer: You went “full disclosure” ?
Friend: Yeah, sure. What the heck, I am who I am.
There were a few… well, maybe it was all in my head, you never can tell for sure… but there were a few incidents where I thought: “well, maybe my name is working against me actually”.
So, it was very remarkable to see that when I decided to just put an “M”, suddenly I got a lot more offers. So, that kinda felt… I don’t know, I don’t think I would have had a problem before [9/11]. Sure there’ll always be racists, so… can’t stop that but I think…
X-Mer: …it was remarkable ?
Friend: It was quite remarkable, I actually didn’t want to remove my name but I talked to my father & he said: “Well, you know sometimes we have to make compromises & it’s still your future & you can’t change everybody’s mind… thoughts“.
X-Mer: But still, I mean you said you were proud but if you look back how does it make you feel that apparently leaving out part of who you are, even though it’s your middle name, it’s apparently “better” ?
Friend: I think it’s… first impressions are very important I guess but it’s also the mindset of some people. Some people like to… I don’t know if it’s laziness or “experience” but they like to find stuff in your resume that isn’t really there.
X-Mer: They read between the lines ?
Friend: Even though there’s nothing there to read between the lines. I was kind of disappointed because… it’s happening “over there” so, even though the impact was worldwide, you’d stil like to think that… I mean, I tried to understand it even though it comes across as very stupid.
I think, & I may be mistaken so correct me if I am, you mentioned something several years ago in passing, something like… that people, I guess in your class or maybe friends, came up to you & started asking you questions about 9/11, terrorists or Islam ?
Friend: Oh, yeah yeah. That was something that was also, yeah… well, before they were like “oh, he’s a Muslim but he’s a good guy” or, not even that you know…
X-Mer: “He’s just a guy” ?
Friend: “He’s just a good guy” & now suddenly I’m “a Muslim guy” & that’s ok, that’s who I am. Nothing wrong with that.
But then on television you have these “specialists” & “knowledgeable” people that bring up all these theories & stories about Islam & some of these aren’t so nice.
So, then you have people who you think are… who didn’t make a big deal of you being Muslim then they suddenly say: “oh, I heard this & this about Muslims. Is that true, do you do that ?”. Like we all meet up & decide whose head we’re gonna chop off next time or something like that.
These were also people that came to my house or they knew what was going on, so…
X-Mer: So, it wasn’t like you were unknown to them ?
Friend: Well, some of them.
X-Mer: Some knew you.
Friend: Yeah, so I think: “you should know better. You know me, you were present when we prayed”. Was there anything hostile about it ? I don’t think so.
X-Mer: For the people reading this, is your house filled with anti-Western propaganda or are there bombs lying everywhere ?
Friend: No, no.
X-Mer: How did these visitors get these ideas ?
Friend: Because of what they saw on television. They said: “all Muslims are like this & like that & they have traditions like this” & you know some part of it is true… but you know, it’s not…
I was never taught to hate the Western man or the Western woman.
X-Mer: So, this was some sort of a generalisation on their part ?
Friend: Yeah, sure. It’s more like they were thinking of history, about the past when people came up to you with a sword & said: “you’ll be a Muslim or I’ll chop your head off” kinda like that idea.
But it’s not like we had the crusades or something, so there’s nothing… but I believe the periods were very close together, so you don’t see me saying: “well, you did that so many thousands of years ago, so you probably still do that, don’t you ?”.
X-Mer: Sins of our forefathers.
Friend: Yeah, true. The sad part is that people don’t seem to learn from those events. They’re just like: “all in the past”.
You used to have the Russians & they were “evil”…
X-Mer: The commies ?
Friend: The commies & at the time you believed it. You know, it’s all propaganda you know. & knowing that, I mean whenever a group of people is attacked for whatever reason could be the Jews, Muslims or the commies, there always seems to be, in any particular timeperiod, a group of people to blame.
& I think a lot of it’s to shift the attention away from things. Like men & women on the job market, they get a fair chance but when it comes to the salary there’s still quite a difference. & I think it’s very convenient to say: “well, look at those Muslims, how they treat their women”…
Friend: …so, if you put all the attention on how Muslims treat their women…
X-Mer: …the West doesn’t look so bad in comparison ?
Friend: Yeah, it doesn’t look that bad, so why complain about pay when you’re not a Muslim wife & have it “so much better” ?
X-Mer: Going back to how leaving out your middle name from your resume helped in getting more internship offers & people who knew you & of your situation still came up to you with those questions, looking back would you say it was Islamophobia ?
Friend: I think it was. & it’s not so bad now because it’s been so many years, so it’s not as bad, to me at least, as it was before but it still lingers on a bit.
There’s always going to be a group that’s going to be targeted & that’s a shame because the victims are mostly young people who are at a certain age when they’re still developing [into adulthood] & when they’re experiencing things like that, it’s going to… well, it grows a lot of hatred & resentment, you know ?
That’s it for part 3 but please check back tomorrow for part 4 of the interview, where I ask my friend about the rising scrutiny of Islam after 9/11.