I wish it was true that an unproven theory from the 1600’s rode a wooden broomstick and descended into a faraway land. Yet, here we are today, in a world of unparalleled heights in intelligence and science alongside a simple misunderstanding that is causing misery for Muslim Americans. America, seen by many as a land of riches, financial and military power, that supposedly provides its citizens with a life of liberty, safety and happiness. The undeniable truth is that honest, hardworking and peaceful Muslim Americans like me have experienced unjust prejudice and hatred, resulting in a life that is far from the ideals that many relate to life in America. Throughout its history and to this day, shades of racism and an unwillingness to accept minorities continues to be prevalent in the United States of America. On September 11th, 2001, the smoke turned to fire as a nation witnessed the worst terrorist attack on its own soil. As the World Trade Centre towers fell to the ground, so too did liberty, safety and happiness. Groups of Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes in an attempt to destroy American ideals through radical and cowardly ideology. The unnecessary death of three thousand innocent people changed life as we know it. A new low in American history was upon us as fear and anger divided Americans based on religion and skin colour. Since 9/11, Muslim Americans have been victims of a witch-hunt, one which portrays us as terrorists and our religion as a belief system based on radicalism and hate. Nothing could be further from the truth for those practicing Islam, yet ill-informed Americans have painted us all with the same brush. Today, Muslim Americans constantly face deliberate harassment, creating “Islamophobia” in society, politics, media and the workforce.
I immigrated to the US in 1999, hoping for a better life for my family. Baghdad was unsafe and opportunities for work were limited. My wife and I worked for my father selling Kabob. The family business is all that we had. We lived day by day, barely able to support our family. Poverty was an endless cycle from generation to generation, offering little hope. The government was corrupt, and our country suffered due to its ties to extremists. The 12-hour flight to the land of the free presented us with hope for a better life. Surely, a country based on democracy and blessed with wealth and opportunities had more to offer us. My biggest concern was finding a home upon arrival as I did not fear hard work. Our move to the US was definitely a culture shock. Government housing assisted us, but we couldn’t shake that feeling of not belonging. We wouldn’t be greeted as we walked into a grocery store and getting served at a restaurant took longer than we expected. Were we overthinking things or were we being treated differently than other Americans?
While searching for a job, I was turned down at restaurants, hardware shops and construction sites without good reason. It was almost as though my skin colour and accent were more important to these companies than my work ethic and desire to assimilate. One place instantly turned me away, saying that they only hire Americans! I had heard that educated Muslims had less of a chance at being hired over white Americans with fewer credentials. Also, many employers paid Muslims less salary than a stereotypical American. Eventually, I settled into a role as a janitor at the International Petroleum Investment Company operating out of the 90th floor of the North World Trade Centre. The dress code wasn’t an issue, nor was the colour of my skin or my religious beliefs. This company had Arab roots, giving me somewhat of a connection to my roots. It wasn’t a pleasant job, but it provided for my family and I didn’t experience discrimination while on the job.
On September 11th, 2001 at 8:45 am, the world changed forever as did my life in the United States. While I was cleaning the windows, I saw a massive 767 plane bolting towards me. Allah must have been with me, as the aircraft made contact with the floors right above me. Panic erupted as deadly smoke and fire engulfed everything in sight. It was only a matter of time before the world’s largest building, at that time, falls. With everyone fearing for their lives, there we were, stampeding down the stairs. Barely breathing, I didn’t think that I was going to make it, but somehow, I made it to the ground. I was one of the lucky ones, meters from being trapped a few floors above and burning alive or suffocating. Upon reaching ground level, I looked up and saw another plane crash into the south tower. It was more than evident now that this was no tragic accident. America was under attack. Many around me were unaware of what was taking place and I didn’t have time to explain what I had seen. There I was, witnessing history and experiencing an event far worse than I ever experienced back home. As I sprinted down Fulton Street and as the dust and ruble rained down, all I could think about was that I left Baghdad to get away from the senseless attacks and war. There I was, right in the middle of it, again.
All of a sudden, one man yells, “It was him! It was him! I saw the wire!” Confused out of my mind, it came to me that I was being falsely accused of being a terrorist that just detonated a bomb! Fellow Americans were accusing me, the dark-skinned, Middle-East looking man, of being a terrorist. I was being chased and eventually, dozens of people tackled me to the ground and brutally assaulted me. An N.Y.P.D officer joined in on the assault and aimed a rifle right between my eyes. That was it. I survived the plane crashing into the building, but not the false, hatred fueled accusation of being a guilty terrorist. Somehow, I remained conscious and recalled an F.B.I team running past me towards the towers, advising everyone that it was a plane that flew into the tower. The officer immediately put down his rifle and left me there helpless on the street as he ran off, unapologetically.
It is evident that fear itself is something to be feared. In Iraq, I feared for my safety, just as Americans did, post 9/11. Fear worsened after the outbreak of chaos after the attacks. I can tell you that Muslim Americans have been used as scapegoats for the imbalance of order. Our nation pointed fingers at the easy targets, rather than taking progressive action. As a result, my fellow Muslims have suffered more so than other Americans. Even before the attacks, injustice and prejudice towards fellow Americans was normalized due to the physical differences and religious beliefs. I believe that education is crucial and I wish someone would recognize the goodness in my brothers and sisters rather than look to punish us for our differences. Just like many of our famous celebrities, we have proven to be equal and normal. We are not a supernatural state performing deeds that are harmful to society. I dream of the day when the inexcusable hunt and harassment of Muslims comes to an end. We all agree that we must destroy terrorism and we must come together and build upon our differences and to never allow such an attack on innocent people again. We cannot allow fear, anger and chaos to lead to a witch hunt that continually persecutes Muslims. Our nation, full of diversity, should allow all Americans equal opportunity to achieve a life full of liberty, safety and the pursuit of happiness.