Thirteen years ago today began like any other day for me as a second-grader, just as it was a normal school or work day for the rest of the United States. My mom dropped me off telling me she would be picking me up from my friend, Yasmeen’s house that night, because it was her sixth birthday. I was staying out on a school night and to my seven-year-old self, that was one of the most exciting things that could happen. But within a couple hours, my classroom phone was ringing off the hook and suddenly one of those calls was for me and Ameera, another best friend of mine. We were pulled out of class under the pretense that we were celebrating Yasmeen’s birthday early. We were distracted by movies and games, and kept away from cable television. Our innocence regarding what had happened that morning was preserved by our parents until late that night.
That night came unsettling warnings from our parents on why our color and faith might garner some ignorant reaction from our classmates in the coming days and that we were to ignore them. Not only did I have to understand at the mere age of seven that being “brown” and Muslim meant I was a minority, it was the first time I was forced to realize that my “American-ness” was subject to the questioning and whim of others that deemed themselves more American.
And I am tired — tired of spending more than half of my short life trying to prove and defend my right to call myself just as American as the rest. I was born and raised on this soil, but I have come to learn that my twenty years here is apparently not enough of a qualification.
This leads up to what some might view as quite an audacious statement: I refuse to apologize. I refuse to keep apologizing for the acts of a few extremists that not only hijacked the World Trade Center on this tragic day, but also my faith and race. I refuse to apologize for ISIS, an organization that I consider a group of sorry excuses for human beings. I refuse to keep answering to the calls of media personalities on Fox News and CNN who keep questioning the “silence of Muslim communities” in the United States.
It took me thirteen years, but I now realize that I am not obligated to. Why? Because my dual identity as a Muslim American-Egyptian affords me dual empathy. I can grieve over my Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters just as much as I can grieve over my American brothers and sisters. Never have I felt like I have had to pick and choose one over the other. An act of terrorism is a crime against humanity, and in my eyes, I do not view those that have contributed in the deaths of thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 or the abhorrent executions of American journalists, James Foley and Steve Sotloff by their race or religion. I judge them by their actions — actions that anyone that calls themselves human would condemn without a thought. So while the likes of Sean Hannity are waiting for my apology, I am grieving with the rest of America.
Just last week, I sat cringing as I watched a clip of a debate that was aired on CNN Dallas, where the CNN journalists were badgering one of the experts they had brought on, Marc Lamont Hill, to concede to the “fact” that what we see from individuals that act in the name of Islam is not present in other faith communities. Dear CNN Dallas, let me deal you this fact: terrorism is not an exclusive Islamic phenomenon. If the media chooses not to solely report on the extremist acts wrongly justified by Islamic teachings, then the public might stop soliciting unnecessary apologies and condemnations from the larger Muslim community. I can name countless assassinations of physicians known for administering abortions and countless hate crimes against religious minorities (i.e. Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, etc.) committed in the name of white supremacist groups driven by misinterpreted or extreme Christian ideologies.
So if we are going to play the blame-and-apology game, do I not, as an American living in this country, have every right to ask every white male to apologize for the terrifyingly frequent mass shootings on elementary, high school and college campuses country-wide? Do I not have every right to ask for an apology from every conservative that has attempted to justify and ignore the rising number of dismissed sexual assaults on women in the United States? If I play by the same rules as those who point fingers at me, then yes, I do. But as I refuse to generalize, I refuse to apologize, because just as I know that extremism perpetuated by a handful amidst 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide is in no way associated with me and my practice and identity, I acknowledge the diversity of every community and the unfortunate, inevitable extremism that exists in every single one of them.
So on the thirteenth anniversary of September 11, I continue to mourn the loss of the lives of my American brothers and sisters, and grieve over the Arab lives that this attack cost in the years that have followed.