Students, staff reflect on 9/11 anniversary

There’s a certain ring with that date that evokes several reactions. Silence, a sort of solemn respect. Hazy, distant memories that induce tears and trigger distress.

Even jokes.

On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 militants linked to the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked and crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, killing more than 3,000 people and forever changing American society. On the anniversary of this day, the nation has seen the full effects of the terrorist attack in increased military defense and airport security, but one group experiences something much more personal.

Zeshawn Khan was born in America, but his parents emigrated from Pakistan. The 2015 graduate says that although he was too young to remember the 9/11 attacks when they happened, he still sees the effects years later.

“The more common jokes I’m kind of used to,” he said, “but when they hit me with something more offensive it kind of hits the heart.” Khan recalls the racist names he’s been called in his life, notably “terrorist.” “I guess that term goes along with (being Pakistani).” His friends commonly joke with him about these stereotypes, which he doesn’t take much offense to, but Khan has even heard these remarks from complete strangers. On the first day of his junior year, he said that once he introduced himself to a classmate and told him he’s Pakistani, the first thing the classmate asked was, “Do you know how to make bombs?”

Senior Jaspreet Singh has experienced similar racist remarks, even though he’s Indian, a nationality not typically affiliated with the terrorist group. But because of his complexion, he’s mistaken for Middle Eastern. “(My friends) took it as a joke, like, ‘Oh, you’re a terrorist,’ but they didn’t really mean it.”

Gurvinder Chauhan, an English teacher, is also Indian, and although she says she hasn’t been negatively profiled often she notices how people in her family are. “My dad does tie a turban,” she said. “He has had reactions of people referring to him as an Arab.” Chauhan reflects that the common misconception of people being referred to as Arabs or being affiliated with al-Qaeda is due to ignorance about the Middle East. “You assume the word ‘terrorist’ is someone from Middle Eastern descent,” she said. “You never think someone who’s white from (America) is a terrorist.”

AP Government teacher Tara Hayes makes a similar reflection. “If Dylan Roof was a Muslim, (the Charleston church shooting) would be considered a terrorist attack, but the media didn’t call him a terrorist.”

Although prejudice can develop into something as severe as a hate crime, young people still find that discrimination can be reduced to humor. Lightly exchanging racist jokes is common among sophomore Dawdy Salah and his friends. In conversation, one of his ftiends may tell him to “stop bombing stuff,” he said. “Even though I don’t get offended, I still don’t like it.” He compares calling Middle Easterners “terrorists” to calling black people “thugs,” another common stereotype turned into a punchline.

The after-effects 14 years later don’t stop at schoolyard jokes. Due to xenophobia, the United States has increased defense spending geared towards the Middle East. “9/11 taught us to be suspicious,” Hayes said, “and now we’re so afraid of being caught off guard that we look for what doesn’t fit.”

Islamophobia worsened exponentially after the 9/11 attacks, resulting in a “Global War on Terrorism” focused in Middle Eastern countries in order to “fight terrorism” and prevent more attacks. What few realize, as both Chauhan and Hayes said, that terrorism is not synonymous with coming from the Middle East and that it can derive from anywhere.