Seattle-area youth reflect on what it means to know only one post-9/11 world
September 11, 2001 is a day in the memories of many people – they remember where they were, what they did and how they felt. But people born after September 11 have a different experience.
Mariam Badr, an 18-year-old student at the University of Washington, Bothell, said every birthday brings a wave of hatred for Muslims, especially women like her who wear hijabs and are easily identified as Muslims.
“Why does this event for which I was not even present affect my life to this day? ” she said.
When Badr was 9, she sat in her class in Issaquah like she would any other day. But that day’s lesson plan included conversations about 9/11.
Badr remembers everyone in her class looking at her, as if she had something to do with the attacks., although they took place before his birth.
“I was more than confused,” she said. “It was like people looked at me differently.”
As soon as Badr got home, she asked her mother about it. She remembers her mother’s face wrinkling as if she was confused – then worried – about what her daughter might say next.
“This led to a conversation about ‘this is what happened’ and ‘this is why people hate Muslims,'” Badr said.
It was a lot for a child to accept, and Badr said it took him a few more years to fully understand the effects the scapegoat had on American Muslim families.
Although it has been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, people still don’t understand that a person does not represent Islam and the Muslim community, Badr said.
People fueled by hatred and ignorance forget that Muslims are ordinary people who have families, pets and friends, and who face the same difficulties as they do, she said.
“Some really only see us as a terrorist threat… But the Muslims who witnessed the attacks were just as scared – maybe even more,” she said. Her community would mourn the tragedy while facing fears of increased Islamophobia, she said.
Shoaib Laghari, 18, said fear of being treated like a foreigner also permeated his family, who left Pakistan for the United States in 2006.
While growing up in Tennessee, Laghari, now a UW student, said his parents encouraged him to adopt his American identity because “it was the safest thing to do.”
Yet he said he noticed discrimination against his family when he was just 6 years old.
Laghari began discussing Islamophobia with his parents as he grew older. His father told him he remembers a customer calling him racist slurs while he was working at a gas station. Laghari himself endured 9/11 “jokes” and was labeled a terrorist by his classmates – even friends – growing up, he said. Young people make jokes about 9/11 even though their parents are politically affected by the American response, he said, because the tragedy has become so normalized.
A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs shows that 53% of Americans hold unfavorable opinions about Islam, while 42% hold favorable opinions. During this time, most of those interviewed expressed favorable opinions about Christianity and Judaism.
Education around 9/11 and its effects on Muslim communities was lackluster, if at all, Laghari said. Sometimes all children had the opinion of their parents, he said, which meant they were missing exposure to multiple perspectives and understanding that religious extremism is rare and not the norm.
Born under surveillance
The The increased surveillance following the attacks has placed a greater burden on American Muslim communities, Laghari said. Muslims appear to be “randomly selected” for security checks far too often, he said., recounting the multiple times her family was delayed at airports while their luggage was searched. While it can be hit and miss, he said, the frequency of this research has left Laghari wondering if prejudice plays a role.
Younger people don’t think they could just get on a plane, said 17-year-old Seattle college student Ava Golde.
“I’ve seen it in older movies and I’m like ‘what?’,” Golde said. “We don’t know a world like this.”
“These heightened security measures seem like an uncomfortable reminder, but at the same time, in a way, you also feel safe,” Golde said. But she wonders if she would even think of security without visible guarantees.
There is a divide between the elderly who remember being able to get on a plane and the younger ones who have never experienced it. For Golde, security seems “fundamentally American.
The travel ban on Muslims under the Trump administration highlighted the current Islamophobia that many United States faces, Golde said. Although she has noticed that more and more people are having conversations about prejudice, Islamophobia is still there, she said.
Learn more about September 11
For many people born after the attacks, it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly they heard of 9/11, Golde said.
Learning of the September attacks seemed “superficial” to Golde. It was only at the age of 11 that she understood the impact of September 11 on the United States. Images of the falling Twin Towers and first-hand testimony left Golde with a better understanding, she said.
Many young people can only begin to understand the weight of 9/11 as they become adults, said Galaxy Marshall, a 21-year-old Seattleite. Conversations that clean up and leave the context out normalize the 9/11 attacks, she said.
Marshall was around 4 when she first learned of the 9/11 attacks. The last page of a children’s storybook she was reading with her mother noted that the Twin Towers were no longer standing. Marshall initially relied on his mother to fill in the gaps, but she was left with more questions.
When Marshall was in first grade, her mother sent her to school with the storybook. It was the fifth anniversary of the attacks.
At the end of the day, Marshall’s teacher told him to say “thank you” to her mother on her behalf, as she didn’t know what to do, “but it was perfect”. Marshall remembers thinking her teacher was grateful because she didn’t have a lesson plan for the day. Now she wonders if her teacher tried to come up with a lesson plan, but struggled to figure out how to talk about 9/11 to her young students.
Marshall said she was interested in understanding the nuances from what followed the 9/11 attacks, from the rise of Islamophobia to the political response that followed, because his parents were politically active and focused on civil rights.
As he got older, Marshall began to connect the wires. It is difficult for young people to fully understand what it would have been like to witness the attacks, she said. During his teenage years, Marshall searched for reports from that day, first-hand accounts and other media, trying to figure it out.
Evan Rufert, a 17-year-old student at Snohomish High School, had a similar experience learning about 9/11. He recalls attending a football game at the University of Washington when he noticed the players’ helmets had a 9/11 tribute marker on them for the 10th anniversary. When Rufert asked his father for more information, he began to explain what had happened.
Growing up, Rufert said he had very few conversations evaluating the US response to 9/11. Interested in politics and history, Rufert said he did his own research to step back and develop his own opinions.
Most people don’t realize how much time has passed since the attacks, he said. “They just assume everyone finds out for themselves, or that they were there when it happened.”