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I was a bit sleepy as I walked into the resident physician lounge. I was just finishing up my overnight duties, and I was
An American Muslim reflects on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, writes Hesham Hassaballa.
preparing to discuss the patients with the morning team when I saw it. On the TV screen, I beheld smoke billowing from the second tower and asked, "What idiot would fly a plane into a building in New York?" "They're saying it's deliberate," was the reply, and the dread fell over me like a ton of bricks. As I drove home, I listened on National Public Radio as the chaos of those initial hours unfolded, with my fear growing by the minute. When I went home, I watched the towers fall and prayed that I was going to wake up from a terrible dream. Tragically, I was not dreaming.
My eldest daughter was enrolled in an Islamic parochial school, and it closed that day and remained closed for several days out of fear of reprisal attacks. The hospital actually called me back to stay the night, in case of another attack in Chicago, as medical back up. Thankfully, I was not needed. But the shock and awe of that day and what had happened remained with me for many, many months.
As it became clear that so-called Muslims were behind the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, it hurt me on multiple levels. As an American, I was horrified at the evil manifested on that day; I was horrified that any human being would have the gall and depravity to kill almost 3,000 innocent people at one time. It was unconscionable that such horror could ever be committed in my name as a Muslim. Further, however, it hurt to be lumped together with such criminals in a cloud of suspicion and hatred. Although, thankfully, not widespread, there was a backlash against innocent American Muslims (and even non-Muslims) by some fellow Americans, in revenge for the attacks. The fear of attack at our homes, places of work, and houses of worship was palpable for a long time.
That is when the beauty of the American people became manifest. An overwhelming number of fellow Americans came through for their Muslim neighbors, making them feel safe and at home. Everyone at work was making sure I was all right. When some people marched on a suburban mosque here in Chicago, the police response was prompt, peacekeeping and protective, sending the message that they are committed to keeping us safe. All across the country, non-Muslims formed human chains around mosques, in a show of brotherhood and solidarity. The whole country came together in those days and weeks after 9/11, and for the most part, American Muslims were welcomed into the fold.
That togetherness, that sense of unity -- I am afraid -- has been seriously eroded ten years after September 11. There is a concerted effort on the part of a small, but very well-funded, cadre of people that seeks to marginalize and even criminalize the American Muslim presence in our country. Some of their efforts, it seems, may have worked, as polls show an increasing discomfort with Muslims, even though misunderstanding about even the basic tenets of Islam abounds. This despite the fact that American Muslims are quite mainstream and very similar to other faith groups, according to a recent Pew poll. And despite perceptions to the contrary, the poll showed negligible support for extremism in American Muslim community.
As the weeks and months pass after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the calls for hatred and division will only increase. Many of the Republican candidates for President have outwardly declared "Sharia law" as an existential threat to the United States, and I suspect this will only get worse as the campaign for the nomination heats up. I am sure that many will recall the horrible events of 9/11 to smear American Muslims. Let us not wait for another tragedy to come together and reject this sentiment. In the Pew survey, most American Muslims (80%) say other Americans were either friendly or neutral towards them. That is true, and I hope and pray the goodness inherent in our people will always win the day and drown out the hate of the extremists.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based doctor and writer. His latest book is Noble Brother: The Story of the Last Prophet in Poetry (Faithful Word Press).
Copyright © 2011 Hesham A. Hassaballa -- distributed by Agence Global