It had been an ordinary Tuesday morning. I had woken up, late as usual, hurriedly dressed and walked quickly to school without bothering to look around at the leaves turning from forest green to burnt orange as they normally began to do every fall. It drizzled lightly that morning and a chilled breeze had wafted through the portable-cum-classroom as I tried to stay awake and pay attention to the long division we were being taught. I had never enjoyed Grade 6 arithmetics, and certainly less so on cool September mornings when all you want to do is stay warmly tucked under the covers, without having anything to worry about. Little did I know that, in just a handful of minutes, we would all be burdened with something greater that numbers and equations to think about. The intercom had blared, shaking me out of my daydream about warm beds and soft pillows, and the principal’s voice boomed out to every classroom and corridor in the school. A grave terrorist act has taken place, he had said, as two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. Not in Toronto, he reassured, but in New York. He had called it a shocking and terrifying act, and urged us all not to panic and to stay calm and that he would inform us of any updates if necessary. I remember being confused then, and wondering how the collapse of a couple of buildings could possibly have any effect on us, sitting in school in Toronto. If only the principal could also have told me then, on that fateful morning of September 11th, 2001, of the many consequences that would follow the attack on the WTC.
I was eleven years old and only a few hours away from New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Nearly nine years later and thousands of miles away from Ground Zero, I am still just as perturbed, not about what actually happened, but about the chain of events that unfolded soon after. A total of nineteen hijackers took control of four commercial airliners, crashing two into the WTC in New York, one into the Pentagon in Virginia, and one in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. Nearly three thousand people died that day, with many more injured, but that, as I later discovered, was just the tip of the iceberg. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost in the eight years that have passed, owing to the decisions made by the American government following 9/11. Almost five hours after the WTC was attacked, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield started making tentative plans to attack Iraq and obtain control over Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that neither Iraq nor its dictator had any link whatsoever to either Al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the actual perpetrators of the attack. A note taken by one of Rumsfield’s aides quotes, “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.” –Saddam Hussein – “at same time. Not only UBL” (Osama Bin Laden) They simply needed an excuse and some conspiracy theorists see the whole incident of 9/11 as simply a smokescreen dropped by the US itself so that it could go after the countries it wanted to. As a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched a War on Terror against Al-Qaeda and its agents of terrorism, and used this reason to invade Afghanistan only twenty six days after 9/11. Although the American attacks in Afghanistan did initially serve to dethrone the Taliban from the region, they also hurled Afghanistan into a whirlpool of instability and insecurity, as its civilian population suffered from the cut-off from food and medicine supplied, and illegal drug-trafficking proliferated and anti-American insurgent groups acted out within the country.
A key question that came to prevail over all public discussion was “Why do they hate us?”, asked by President George W Bush nine days after 9/11. The answer was thought to be discovered not in the United States, its political framework or in any of its foreign policies but in ‘the other’, the irrational, angry and bearded militant Muslims of all Islamic societies. Everyone was wondering ‘What is wrong with the Muslim world?’ rather than bothering to question that perhaps there was something fundamentally wrong in the United States itself that it was targeted for a such a large-scale terrorist act. America was deemed as normal, its ideology was universal, whereas any harm done to America could only stem from a not-normal, and illogical culture. Aggression, hate and anger were all instigated within the general American populace to such an extent that many people did not even bother to question the actions of their government and wonder over whether or not starting wars and taking innocent lives was the right way of obtaining justice for the atrocities committed on 9/11. Any opposition to the war on terror was seen as unpatriotic and possibly even dangerous, and this led to a rise in hate crimes all over the world, with Muslims being the primary victims. My own brother Muhammad was threatened repeatedly at his workplace in Toronto despite the fact that nothing about his mannerisms or accent indicated he was a religious man or even an Arab. It was simply because of his name that many people felt the need to accuse him of being in cahoots with terrorists hiding away in caves halfway across the world.
When I met new people in Toronto, they wondered about the exotic origins of my name. After 9/11, I stopped telling them it was in Arabic name, and I stopped correcting their erroneous pronunciation. Instead, I said I had no idea what my name meant, and preferred to be called by the Anglicized version of it that they created. It was not all unpleasant, but the feeling that, suddenly you are seen as an outsider and an unwelcome foreigner in a place where you had lived your whole life, was hurtful and more than a little baffling. I did not understand then the larger scope of what was going on in the world, or the actions of the American government that would lead to senseless aggression, suppression of people, unfair imprisonments of innocents, and the destruction of thousands of blameless lives. What happened during 9/11 was certainly unfair, but it did not, in any way, give any right to the United States to embark on a mission based on global domination through force and coercion. 9/11 does not justify manipulating the truth in order to advance politically accepted dogmas and nor does it set a precedent for establishing governing metanarratives of unquestionable authority and then enforcing them throughout the rest of the world. What happened on 9/11 was unjust but what has happened since then is simply beyond the pale of justice entirely.