On the morning of the terrorist attacks orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, the Saudi born heir to a massive fortune, who used his influential status as the launch pad for the militant organization known as al-Qaeda, I was living in Jersey City, and getting prepped for the commute to the Upper East Side for another long day as a salesperson for a high-end retail store.
I had just wished my beloved mother a very happy birthday via a phone card that always allotted no more than two minutes of static-free conversation regardless of how much you shelled out.
The weather was gloriously beautiful like most days in early September, and as usual the television was on while I raced around the apartment I shared with my younger brother who was already at school.
When the first plane hit the tower, there wasn’t any cause for alarm, and it actually didn’t resemble the gigantic airliner that it turned out to be. The impact exposed the urgency of the situation, and while the anchors speculated that it could be a commuter plane, I quickly grabbed my bag and robotically walked out the door.
As soon as the Path Train pulled into the 33rd Street Station, we were informed that service had been suspended. Once we emerged from the underground, the gorgeous blue sky and temperate climate failed to reveal the horrors of the burning inferno transpiring several blocks away.
The nightmare that unfolded had to be funneled through the imagined scene of utter chaos since there was no way to rely on social media for graphic updates that could capture it all in real time.
After being stuck in the city for hours, we were shuttled to the crowded platforms of New jersey Transit, where we boarded a large train for free and headed back to our neck of the woods.
By now it was late evening, and the sky was a brilliant streak of colors that suddenly disappeared under the thick black smoke that grew bolder as the train left the city. That was the first time we were able to fully grasp the extent of what turned out to be the historical event of our lifetime.
2001 wasn’t a great year for my late twenty-something self because of the frustration of not being seen or heard and the magnitude of the losses in my family that catapulted my depression. And the polarizing consequences of the 9/11 terrorist attacks symbolized how fragile we are as Americans. We can’t ever hide under the facade of our superiority over nations who are consistently pummeled by what we endured that fateful day.
Days after the arrival of armageddon, I was riding on the bus from the Path Station headed home, and seated towards the front opposite an older Muslim couple.
There was nothing awkward about their appearance when you consider the demographic of that area of Jersey City, but the White middle aged woman standing towering over them wasn’t happy about their presence and aggressively expressed her disapproval.
It was absolutely terrifying to witness the dramatization of an unbearable bigot, who didn’t hold back the insults that she levied with heavy blows that vibrated through the corners of the moving bus with forceful reckoning.
Most of the passengers busied themselves with headphones or simply stared out the window with coerced interest. But I settled my gaze on the unsightly assault happening right in front of me, and with each stop the nonchalant bus driver made, I prayed that the raging creature would get off.
Eventually the assaulted couple quietly and carefully made their way past their aggressor and down the steps to freedom while the yelling continued even after the doors closed behind them.
I remember sitting there stone-faced and contemplative as I internalized the fact that I was probably alone in my disgust and disillusionment about what had been performed. It felt very lonely because of the chilly temperature that led to me to believe that the harassment of that innocent couple was the natural and acceptable reception for those who represent the definition of global terrorism. Even if their belief system doesn’t reflect the blasphemous manifesto of Islamic militants, who weaponize religion to fund their gluttonous motives.
Hate crimes against Muslim-Americans increased substantially after the 9/11 attacks, but even before then, Islamophobia was a normalized form of ignorance that didn’t really require any urgent need to gather the basic knowledge that would shatter the longstanding myth of what it means to be devoted to the teachings of Islam.
And of course the current administration that’s been installed by the vengeance of White nationalists, who couldn’t wait to restore the tainted glory and sanctity of White America has successfully left targeted communities on high alert with no end date.
President Trump and his equally vile enablers have perfected the rulebook of bigotry with the funded announcement that righteously demonizes populations that counter the standard default of the supremacy of a White Jesus Christ.
White evangelicals are convinced that the abhorrence of Donald Trump’s presence in the position of absolute power, situated in the White House that has officially become the “House of Horrors,” was ordained by Almighty God, who came to rescue His chosen people from threats of extinction.
This deranged endorsement of a bullish renegade with disruptive tendencies has given Trump the leverage he needs to constantly step out of bounds with hostile behavior directed at vulnerable law-abiding citizens, who don’t have the luxury of a security detail to protect them from White terrorists, who have been empowered by the deadly antics of their supreme leader.
It wasn’t at all shocking to observe the way Ilhan Omar was terrorized by the president and the GOP, just days after her history-making debut as a Congresswoman.
The goal was to enforce the qualities that automatically render her unpatriotic, and what better way to start than to emphasize how her religious practices and ethnic background pose a threat for real Americans who are White and Christian, and not willing to be tolerant of the infiltration of a Black Muslim woman, who could very well be a terrorist-in-training.
The Muslim ban was the mission statement that the Trump administration couldn’t wait to activate despite the outcry heard around the world. And while those measures caused real harm to Muslim-Americans, the worst of the nationalized attacks came from the hateful rhetoric that was reinforced by Trump, when he lied about watching “thousands” of Muslims victoriously “cheering” at the sight of the fallen Twin Towers.
Of course that wasn’t a true story, but what did actually happen doesn’t get nearly enough attention as it deserves.
While Donald Trump, the ruthless New York City failed business tycoon was busy boasting about how his downtown building was finally the tallest after the Twin Towers were grazed to the ground and nearly 3,000 people perished, we didn’t get the memo about how 60 of those victims were Muslims.
And all these years later, the gut-wrenching task of being punished for crimes that were committed by cowardly beasts who falsely claim to be exalting the name of Allah while carrying out acts of terror against the lowly and defenseless still remains the American tradition that refuses to die.
Islamophobia is very much alive in this country and it is demonstrated in unexpected ways by those who purport to be fighters for equality. Like that time when former presidential hopeful, Kirsten Gillibrand released the statement condemning the offensively nauseating tweet that featured the image of Ilhan Omar against the burning Towers. While Gillibrand rightfully scolded Trump’s ill-advised decision, she also passively admitted that she doesn’t support the “minimizing” of 9/11.”
That was Gillibrand’s method of catering to both sides with the understanding that most of her White Christian voters would appreciate her ability to subtly call out a Muslim woman who is suspiciously neutral about the catastrophic events that changed America forever.
Ilhan Omar’s remarks were cunningly taken out of context by conservative media and the trick worked because of how most Americans view Islam, and how the instinctual fear that erupts is the required homage to those who lost their lives based on the inherent violence that all Muslims are able to manifest when radicalization is complete.
Thankfully, my childhood upbringing in Lagos, Nigeria allowed me to thrive in the company of Muslim friends, and I was privy to the gracefulness of the religion especially during prayer time, when I would be captivated by the reverence of those delicate movements that left me fascinated and envious.
Muslim-American families were and continue to be devastated by the memory of that horrific day, 18 years ago, and while we barely hear the endearing testimonies like the one about Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old, who was an “emergency medical technician and police cadet,” who never returned home after rushing to ground zero to offer assistance — that certainly doesn’t mean those American heroes don’t exist.
We have to fight against the potency of Islamophobia that tends to be ceremoniously downplayed because of the treacherous lies that permit the domestic terrorism on Muslim-American communities in America to be downplayed because of the lack of public interest and compassion.
Christianity has historically been the weapon of choice for White supremacists, who used it to invade Black nations while robbing them of resources and permanently destabilizing cultures. And Islamic militants follow similar tactics to get what they want at all costs.
It’s time to stop being lazy and rise up to the assignment of denouncing all forms of hate, especially on the solemn anniversary of 9/11. Maybe we can include the population that has been ceaselessly suffering from the dire effects of that horrendous event, based on their faith, in our own special prayers.