I was ten years old, it was the election year and I was learning how to rollerblade. Things, in my opinion, were going pretty well. Little did I know how the events that would happen early on the 11th of September, 2001 would change my life, and my generation, forever.
Everybody knows where they were when they heard about the twin tower attacks. As I had an early bedtime, I didn’t hear about them until the next morning; I remember waking up, going about my business and hearing my mother say to me just before she left for work, “if anything strange happens today, tell us when you get home!”.
I was puzzled. “Why would anything happen?”
“Look at the paper!”
I still clearly remember unfolding the broadsheet of The Australian and seeing the image of the two towers burning and thinking “woah, this is crazy”.
Things were a little different after that, but as a young child I didn’t really notice the macro differences, only the ones that affected my life directly. It frustrated me that all my TV shows had been replaced by news and it slowly dawned on me something horrific had happened, but this time was different. I could feel something bigger was taking place…but wasn’t sure what. As the weeks went by however, I started to discern the signs of the monumental societal shift occurring.
I went to a local Islamic primary school. We had bottle and rocks thrown at our school bus and had a lovely policeman stationed at our front gate in case of any trouble. Our local mosque was burnt down.
All of a sudden my religion was in the spotlight, and consequently, so were all Muslims.
In many ways, 9/11 has defined my adolescence. Growing up a covered (hijab-wearing) Muslim female in a Western country in the aftermath meant that I all of a sudden became a public face for a religion people didn’t really understand and assumed was violent. I had to justify myself and my choices to high school teachers and students, people on the street, people in my athletics club. We were pigeon holed and categorised; ‘moderate’, ‘radical’, ‘fundamentalist’, but only one was socially acceptable. My religion and beliefs all of a sudden became a topic for public discussion, and I was thrown in the deep end.
I think the fact that it happened at such a young age meant that the ‘transition’ was a little easier to stomach, I just adapted to the new situation; I do think the older generation found it a little more difficult. What I find even more shocking and saddening though, is the fact that there is an entire generation of people growing up who don’t know what pre-9/11 looks like.
I remember tutoring a grade 10 student earlier this year and attempting to explain the concept of a ‘paradigm shift’ using the example of 9/11. “So, remember when the Twin Towers fell…” I began and he stopped me and said “What?”.
I was brought up short. “Don’t you remember 9/11?”
He didn’t. A whole generation of young people are growing up now and they don’t know what it is like to go through airports without massive security barriers and ‘random’ bomb tests. They don’t know a time when Islam wasn’t a demonised religion but a slightly under-the-radar part of society. They didn’t get the chance to ever see a plane’s cockpit during flight, like my brother and I used to get the opportunity to when we flew overseas…
9/11 affected the entire world in a way no other calamity has done in recent history. All I hope is that the next decade brings some sort of resolution and mutual understanding rather than the demonization of ‘the Other’, whoever the Other is deemed to be. It is only then we can learn from the tragedies of our time and move to ensure they do not repeat themselves.