I had actually begun writing this post last month but for some reason divine intervention, I decided that I should just hold off a little while longer before publishing. Throughout the years I had this idea continue to build up in my head but I never really felt I could write a full composed post on it until last month. So instead of putting it off, I decided I should finish writing it and post it now anyway when it seems relevant. The topic of my post this entire time: my life in the immediate aftermath of September 11th.
We had just moved to New Jersey in 2000, when I was in 8th grade and was just getting settled in and decided to apply to this brand new “Academy” school which had opened up just across the street from my complex. I didn’t have any initial interest but my math teacher really encouraged me and my parents really saw potential in going to such a school (I’m sure the proximity played a role as well). I paid them a visit, liked what they pitched, gave an entrance exam and here I am, almost a whole decade later.
I remember the Tuesday morning like it was yesterday, we had just come out of our first period engineering classes when our principal called us all (and by all I mean the 70 kids that attended the school at the time) to the common area. He announced the events that had taken place and had any student whose parent(s) worked in the area or might have been affected, to go to the office and give a call to make sure they were okay. The rest proceeded to our next class where we all watched the events unfold in horror and amazement.
Being the only Muslim in my school was quite the unique experience but I had hopes of being to be a normal kid and go on my way without sticking out. That wasn’t going to be the case any more and to a certain extent, I am glad about it. I was able to stand out, defend my beliefs and religion against these atrocities and be able to learn from and educate my peers and teachers. As much as I didn’t want to be singled out, I look back on that as one of the best learning and growing experiences I have had. It makes you question what you stand for and ultimately I stood stronger at the end than I did coming in.
There wasn’t a single student in my freshman class that mocked me for my religion – I make that distinction because there was one racist kid in the year above me and I suppose calling me a terrorist made him feel better about himself. Most teachers were great too – again I say ‘most’ because there was one issue but I will get to that in a minute. As for the rest of the teachers, all held pretty open and fair discussions on what had happened and more importantly, why had it happened? We didn’t belittle each other, we were pretty open minded about it with far greater respect than I had expected 14 year olds to show each other in times of great tension. Maybe we didn’t know any better but through that experience I learned a great deal about the character of my peers in those very first few months of my freshman year than I would need to the remaining 3+ years. Our petty disagreements and hurt feelings on who our favourite team is or what your favourite pokemon is pale in comparison to how we treated each in time of great national distress. To this day, I’m quite grateful for the way I was treated by them and the teachers – for the most part.
The one dreaded issue that still lingers was in one class that I was sent down to the principal’s office because my actions “were not representative of a patriotic person” and “is not what the country needs at this time”. My crime: saying that actions by some Americans could be described as “idiotic”. Let me be clear, this discussion took place after we read a story in class and was not related to any 9/11 discussion whatsoever. That’s what caught me off guard with all of this. When I had said this, the teacher made no remark that somehow what I had said was wrong but a period later, when I am in another class, I was told to go down. To my dissatisfaction at the time, I didn’t receive any support from the school administration either although it is not surprising now that I look back upon it. To this day, the teacher never spoke to me about the issue and in my youthful ignorance (or better judgment), and partly I am to blame for wrongly choosing to drop the issue. I will still gladly take an apology but at this point, I better let bygones be bygones.