18 years ago today, the lives of everyone I knew and loved were altered forever when a group of terrorists from Saudi Arabia slammed two planes into the World Trade Center, a third into the Pentagon, while a fourth destined for the White House was brought down in a field in Pennsylvania. These evil men were part of a network of extremists whose state purpose was to bring the Muslims of the world into war with America through means of violence.
For an entire generation, the memory of the villainry of September 11th is seared into our minds, but for a select group of us, those events were even more impactful, because they led to 18 years of suspicion, discrimination, illegal surveillance, curtailing of our civil rights, and in some cases, death and physical harm. As a millennial, half a dozen people I knew have now died in combat fighting two wars, one in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. More than a few dozen have come home to an America that can scarcely understand the trauma of war and the dramatic toll prolonged exposure to violence can take on a mind.
As a Muslim, I and dozens of other Muslims have been physically and verbally harassed denied jobs, been asked to leave establishments, had my belongings illegally searched, denied our civil rights and legal protections for the past 18 years because of the bigotry that resulted from September 11th, 2001. That hostility was the exact desired outcome of terrorist Osama Bin Laden and his followers, who hoped that from that hostility a war between Muslims and non-Muslims would ensue the world over.
For me as an American, September 11th marked the end of my innocence in the world. At the age of 13, with my voice still unbroken by puberty, I lost my belief that the world was full of good people trying to make good lives for themselves and their loved ones. Emotionally, I have never recovered. My identity as both a Muslim and American has only recently and painfully been stitched back together after years and years of internal strife and agony.
It was the harrowing events of 9/11 that led to politics, activism and community organizing. But there is no happy ending here. These three things have often left me exhausted both emotionally and spiritually. Nowadays, they leave me bitter and jaded. In the face of so much hate and division in America today, I often do not have the energy to keep going.
But, I also have somber hope. I have seen and met so many truly good people in this world over the past 18 years, that I fail to surrender that stubborn belief that, even if the world is ending, we should try and plant a tree this very day. We should always look to tomorrow and hope for a better future for ourselves and our children. Despite the sins of Osama and his truly evil minions, we should remember those heroes both known and unsung who put forth all they had to save lives and make a better world 18 years ago this day.
My prayer today is that we will never again witness such wanton destruction and violence as we endured on 9/11. But even if we do, I pray we will look deep into ourselves and bring out the best of our hopes for a better tomorrow.