My memory of September 11 is slightly different from most. I remember my dad asking me if anyone gave me trouble at school. He told me things were going to change, and I had to be aware of this.
I am half Lebanese, and one of the two religions I grew up with is Islam.
My father was born in Lebanon. He came to the states when he was 18-years-old, not knowing the language, and fleeing from a civil war. He met my mother, who was born in Chicago, and the two married.
Growing up my sisters and I were educated on the different cultures and religions that made up our family. We celebrated Christmas, the holy month of Ramadan, and the Eid. We were free to immerse ourselves in whatever religion we wanted, should we choose to. Everything was our own decision.
My father was right, everything changed.
At school I was not a target. People thought I was Italian because I have my mother’s fair skin and my dad’s darker features. Most people think my last name is Hawaiian. But the fact that people didn’t target me directly didn’t erase the pain I felt when I heard kids talk about how they “can’t wait for the army to go over there and blow them all up, because they are all terrorists.”
“Over there” is half my home. I have family “over there.” They are Muslim, but not terrorists.
It has been fourteen years since that horrible day and Islamophobia continues to spread. Presidential candidates use Islamophobia to their advantage, preaching if elected they will rid the country of all the Muslims. It’s scary, it’s sad, and it goes against what I always believed this country stood for.
America was built on the foundation of religious freedom. British citizens fled persecution by the king and church, wanting a country where they could freely express themselves, and their religious views without being labeled a heretic. Our founding fathers were immigrants, and they elected that separation between church and state allowed for people to live life with the pursuit of happiness.
There are nearly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Pew Research Center conducted a survey citing 67 percent of Muslims are concerned about Islamic extremists. Over half of all Muslims denounce terrorism and terrorist organizations, and 81 percent say acts of violence are never justified. According to CNN, there are roughly 106,000 extremist group members, or .00006625 percent of roughly 1.6 billion in population.
The word “terrorist” has become synonymous with Arabs and Muslims. By definition, a terrorist is a person who uses a method of terror in an attempt for personal or political gain. The definition does not specify a race or religion.
ISIS is a terrorist group, as is the Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena, who kill Muslims and spread hate speech. Here is a religion known around the world as being the most peaceful, yet the Buddhist group advocates for violence in the name of what they believe in. Or the Ku Klux Klan; they are white extremists who use their interpretation of the Bible as justification for their religious ideals. They are not Arabs, yet their actions are terrifying.
New America, an international security website, researched attacks by homegrown extremists versus attacks on Americans by Islamic extremist groups since 9/11. Forty eight people died at the hands of white supremacy attacks, where twenty six people were killed by Islamic extremists.
The point is not to say one is worse than the other, both are terrible. The point is to show terrorism comes from all walks of life, races and religions.
There is good and bad in every religion and religious group. The actions of extremists should not put a target on the peaceful, nor should the positives of each religion be overshadowed by the negatives. Christians are not persecuted against because of the Crusades, and Roman Catholics are not pariahs because of the Inquisition. Every sacred text has passages that interpret violence, and unfortunately extremists use these verses and the religion as a platform to carry out heinous acts and atrocities.
My hope is one day people will not judge others because of their religion, or the history that religion carries.
I hope my father will continue to be right, I hope there will be change. And I hope it brings tolerance and acceptance. Because after all, we are home to the brave, and the brave strive for change.