It was the worst 102 minutes in American history. In a single day, 2,977 lives were lost. Four planes crashed. Two Towers fallen. Yet, most Americans only remember two numbers from that day: 9/11.
I was only three years old when it happened. I don’t remember much, except that my mother unexplainably came to my preschool to take me home. I sat at home for the rest of the day, blissfully unaware that this day would change the course of world history for years to come. I would also be blissfully unaware that it would unify America in the way it did.
In the years after 9/11, my life began to change. On the television, especially through the CNN programming with Robin Meade my mother and I watched every morning, phrases such as “Afghanistan,” “The Patriot Act,” “Iraq” and “deployment” became commonplace. When President George W. Bush proclaimed that fighting in Iraq took precedence over helping American civilians in New Orleans, I had my first experience staying up late.
After moving to Hong Kong, I gained an outsider’s perspective. Instead of living within the fishbowl, I got the chance to look inside.
As I got even older, I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing within the media: constant reports of Middle-Easterners, supposed Muslims, committing malicious attacks in the name of “Islam.” These attacks included gruesomely beheading innocent civilians and reporters, bombing a hotel in Mumbai, shooting and killing 13 military soldiers in Fort Hood, stabbing and bombing innocent people in Paris and perpetrating a mass shooting in an Orlando nightclub. Watching such events caused me to constantly ask myself if I was evil. Was I guilty by association, just because I shared a similar ethnicity? Were all Middle-Easterners inherently evil?
No. They weren’t.
Throughout time, I noticed other attacks carried out by different men all in the name of “religion,” and not just Islam. It was Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, too. In every religion, I could see that people were taking advantage of faith in order to pursue their own causes. I decided, after years of constant internal debate, that neither I nor most Middle-Easterners were to blame. The actions of a few impacted the image of many in the public eye.
That public eye was not just biased; it was constantly manipulated by all the propaganda brought out by the American government and the media. In the aftermath of 9/11, someone needed to be the scapegoat, someone who the government could use to push their own agenda. Of course, this would be al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the entire Middle Eastern community. America, which had unified, decided to grieve, projecting anger onto the Middle Eastern community. No, not anger. Anger was an understatement. The American people not only projected anger, but also bigotry, often making stereotypes and assumptions without looking into the facts. You can even argue that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on the manipulation of emotions after 9/11 to fight the “Middle Eastern threat.” We had no reason to be there, but in we went. Everywhere you looked, the media was exploiting Middle-Easterners as “evil”. The public followed suit.
While growing up in Hong Kong, I was one of the lucky ones. I was on the receiving end of very little racial slurs, if any, and most of the prejudice I experienced were from those directed at Middle-Easterners that I knew personally in the United States.
In Hong Kong, no one cared if you were Middle Eastern. That didn’t matter as long as you upheld the law. In the U.S., even the tiniest mention of being Middle Eastern can earn you an extensive pat-down from the Transportation Security Administration, even if you’re a model citizen. It’s even partially the reason why Donald Trump is as popular as he is now.
Even though I say all of these negative things about America, I must get one thing straight: I love America. I feel that it is one of the greatest countries in the world, if not the single greatest. It has given me opportunities to better myself. Hell, it’s probably even the reason you, the reader, are able to read this article right now. However, I, as an American citizen, can stop and call out the faults of the American people. It is a constitutional right. The constant prejudice, in my view, is one of the most blatant, and the one that needs to be addressed. Why?
Even though the pain of 9/11 is still fresh, we need to make one thing clear: neither a whole race nor an entire religion were responsible. We, as a people, have the capacity to love with all of our hearts.
This prejudice has to stop now.
Why can’t we accept that everyone wants to move away from the pain that 9/11 caused? Instead of hate for our Middle Eastern neighbours, why not invite them in for some good ol’ Monday Night Football? Or invite yourself to a nice dinner of moussaka and chelow kebab? We are one people, unified to find and balance the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s work together to make it happen. We, the people, should unify once again.