WTC before 9/11
Hard to believe it has been 10 years since I worked in the World Trade Center. I try to keep in my mind's eye a vision I could see driving into work. There are days I can do it, if only to push away the endless looped images of flaming falling towers that are shown on TV news programs on this day commemorating those who died in the attack and their families and friends.
After the towers fell, I never went back to visit the site. Maybe one day I will, but I am not ready yet.
After the towers fell, there was a hole in my heart and a hole in my hometown's skyline.
Ten years is not a very long time. But it has been long enough to radically change the fabric of life in the United States. Those of us who did not perish live on to tell our tales of that day.
After the towers fell we each had our own stories to tell of where we were on 9/11 and how it changed our lives.
Today I will re-tell mine.
My tale speaks to not just the towers themselves, nor the attacks, nor the falling.
It speaks to something rotten that has sprung up in the place where once there were two towers standing tall and proud. It speaks to fear and hatred. The growth of Islamophobia.
My story was first posted here in Why we had to put an American flag decal on our car.
I have never worn a flag pin. I own an American flag that was presented to my mom by the Tuskegee Airmen, Philadelphia Chapter, at my dad’s funeral. I come from the generation that was more apt to burn flags and draft cards during the Vietnam War, than wear them. I too have been associated with groups that were on J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite hit list
My husband and I live upstate New York, two hours from New York City in an area that is an odd mixture of hard-core Republican’s, Green Party members, aging Woodstock hippies and an assortment of Democrats.
I was working in the World Trade Center when we decided to move upstate, from our home in Astoria Queens, NY. We wanted more space, I wanted to garden and grow veggies, and we couldn’t afford to buy a house in the city. So we searched for an affordable home and found a fixer-upper for sale–cheap-two hours away from Manhattan. My husband was able to change jobs to a place nearer to the new house, but I didn’t have that luxury. After relocating I continued to commute to work early in the morning to make it in to my office, located on the 16th floor of 4 World Trade Center.
One morning, in September of 2001, I got up at 4:30 AM to get ready for the long 2 hour drive in. Before leaving I heard a strange grinding sound from our cellar. County homes often don’t have basements; ours had a cellar with a sump pump. For those of you not familiar with sump pumps–they are used to pump out ground water that accumulates under the house. I investigated and saw smoke; the grinding noises were the sump pump burning itself out. I figured out how to shut it down, but water started to flood over the boundaries of the sump hole and flood the cellar. I woke up my husband and told him to call a plumber. I had to leave or I’d be late for an early morning meeting with my boss.
My husband is a musician and blissfully un-mechanical. He looked at me with dismay and said "what plumber do I call? I explained patiently that he should look in the yellow pages and find one, but that task proved too onerous and with exasperation I found the phone book and started to make calls myself. All I got was answering machines. Meanwhile the water in the basement was rising up–threatening to flood into our hot water heater. We both rushed to get buckets and started bailing. In between bailing and many trips up and down the steep cellar stairs I got more and more worried about missing my meeting at work. I realized I wasn’t going to make it in. I called and left a message on my boss’s voice mail that I would be late.
At one point, while I was still in the cellar, my husband hollered down the stairs to me saying "Denise, you aren’t going to have to go to work this morning." Aggravated with the damned pump that I was still cursing, I asked , "Why? Did Sherry (my boss) call?" "No", he replied, and then said "An airplane just hit your building." I laughed. Very funny, ha-ha, and picked up yet another bucket to hand up the steps . He looked grim, and said somberly, "Come up here and look at this." I wiped the mud off my shoes, trudged up the steps and walked into the living room where the TV was on. I normally put it on to NY1 to figure out how bad the traffic would be for the morning drive. There was a picture of smoke and flames and the Twin Towers and a hysterical announcer reporting that a plane had struck the North tower. As I stood and watched reports came in of a second strike and the rest is history.
In horror, frozen in front of the set we watched and cried and I frantically attempted to call my co-workers. No phone calls made it through. All circuits were busy. At the same time I started receiving calls on my cell from our other office in Puerto Rico, from co-workers who made it out of the building and from others who had arrived on the scene before heading into the building that was now crumbling to the ground. The next few days were a blur, of horror, of pain of tears for those lost and of mourning and attempts to realize the enormity of it all. But something else was happening too; a massive mobilization to counter the threat of another attack by nameless faceless demons from "the axis of evil."
Our small town is located not far from the Ashokan Reservoir one of the largest reservoirs in New York State that supplies the water to NYC.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the city and state decided to permanently close the spillway road to vehicular traffic as a security precaution. This has added a great deal more traveling time and distance for those on the south side of the reservoir to reach locations to the north. The city compensates the local school district for the extra fuel costs its buses have incurred. The Reservoir Rd. causeway, however, is still open.
Large Huey helicopters began to circle our skies. Businesses near the reservoir were deserted. No customers. The hunt for other "terror cells" went into full swing. American flags went up on all the homes in the area–at half-mast. Any home without a flag was under suspicion.
Jingoistic statements were heard on local radio; we have hate groups up here, as well as liberals. But even the tone of the liberals was getting ugly. I stopped in to check with our local gas station guy to see if he was okay ; because he’s a Pakistani. He said he was fine, hadn’t had any weird responses but that his cousin in a neighboring town had closed shop and stayed home. He had been spit upon and threatened by some locals. "Dirty Arab terrorists...go home".
My husband is a musician, as I said before. He plays Afro-Cuban drums in local jazz band and for tambors in the city. One night, he left for a gig near Woodstock, loading his drums and other instruments into the station wagon, accompanied by a fellow drummer up from the city.
When he got home later that evening he, and his friend were shaken and angry. They had been stooped by state troopers, pulled over at gun point and he had to get out of the car on a dark road and face cold hard angry armed guys, who moved him away from the car and then shone lights on the contents of the trunk area. Slowly he handed over his identification, careful not to make any odd moves.
Unfortunately for my husband, his first name is Nadhiyr. Oh yeah, his last name is Velez, but he was wearing a kufi (skull cap) which he usually wears to gigs, or some other similar African head covering and he had a goatee, mustache, is tall, with a fairly hooked nose and looks like a cousin of Osama.
His buddy, the other drummer, also slightly olive-skinned, was wearing similar garb. Though his buddy looks like what anyone would describe in the city as a "Boricua typico" ("typical" Puerto Rican) on that evening two Puerto Ricans became potential Arab terrorists.
As soon as they both opened their mouths and started talking–New York accents, and the officer had probed the duffle bags finding only drums, not explosives or weapons, they were allowed to leave and drive home with a warning that "maybe they shouldn’t be driving late at night." Shaken by all of this, I dug out tee-shirts that we have from Puerto Rico with the PR flag and slogans on them like "Puerto Rican and proud". My husband shaved off his goatee, and mustache, cut his hair short and for the first time in our leftist lives got magnetized American flag stickers to put on our cars. We unwrapped my dad’s funeral flag, folded carefully and lovingly away in a cedar chest, unfolded the triangle, and hung it up on the front porch. Not in honor of those who died, or my dad, but as a defense from the suspicions of neighbors.
Am I angry and bitter about this? Yes. Was it something that we needed to do at the time? Yes. For the first time in many years I was afraid of my neighbors. I hadn’t felt that way since I was a young person moving into an all white neighborhood in Queens when crosses were being burned to keep "us" out, or as a kid in the south when my dad armed himself to confront the Klan.
When I finally got into NYC a few days later for a meeting with my boss and co-workers and the entire research team, it was held at Beth Israel Medical Center on 16th street, close enough to still smell smoke, and there was fallen ash on the patches of green by the edge of the sidewalks. I went for a walk to 14th Street and stopped at a small street-side shrine. They were everywhere. I said a silent prayer for the dead and then I prayed long and hard for the living. One of those prayers was for members of the diverse Muslim and Arab community-family, friends, co-workers and neighbors, who would pay the price for something they had not done, something they mourned and suffered through with the rest of us.
streetside shrine (Library of Congress)
That prayer, or hope was not answered. Over the last ten years it just got worse.
And so we as a nation moved into Muslim=Terrorist mode.
That would be too simple.
In a society where Muslims of all ethnicities are a minority, and ofttimes a visible one, marked by cultural custom and garb, sometimes by phenotype, and clearly by attendance on a different day of worship at a mosque, rather than a church or synagogue we had a new enemy to despise and revile.
Our Muslim American neighbors, and anyone mistaken for being Muslim, including turbanded Sikhs, and African-Americans in headwraps.
I too wear a headwrap.
After the towers fell, American Muslims increasingly became targets of suspicion, open hatred and ostracism.
Tarred as the traitors among us, with dual loyalty to a "foreign faith", as if somehow Christianity is written into our Constitution as the only way of faith—freedom to believe or not believe discarded.
So let us discuss where we are today, 10 years after.
Conflicting reports make headlines.
NYC on High Alert
After receiving threats of 9/11 anniversary attacks officials called 'credible,' New York and Washington, D.C. are ramping up counterterrorism measures and showing force on the streets.
No evidence of suspected 9/11 terror plot
U.S. intelligence agencies have found no evidence that any al Qaeda terrorists sneaked into the country for a strike coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, senior officials said Saturday.
Behind the headlines is solid statistical evidence of animus toward our Muslim community.
Poll: Many Americans uncomfortable with Muslims
Washington (CNN) – Ten years after 9/11, Americans are wrestling with their opinions of Muslims, a new survey found, and where Americans get their TV news is playing a role in those opinions. Nearly half of Americans would be uncomfortable with a woman wearing a burqa, a mosque being built in their neighborhood or Muslim men praying at an airport. Forty-one percent would be uncomfortable if a teacher at the elementary school in their community were Muslim.
Forty-seven percent of survey respondents said the values of Islam are at odds with American values.
The Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution conducted the survey and issued a report, “What it Means to be American: Attitudes in an Increasingly Diverse America 10 Years after 9/11.” “Americans are wrestling with fear, but on the other hand they’re also wrestling with acceptance,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. The results of the survey were announced Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Stop the Mosque movement
There is a large vocal "stop the mosque movement" and Islamophobic websites abound.
This does not just come from the right wing. Despite strong support on the left for the Arab spring movement, things are not so clear here at home. Lest we forget, Howard Dean.
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says the Muslim community center and mosque being planned near the World Trade Center site is an "affront" to people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, and the center should be moved elsewhere. In an interview with WABC's David Goodman Wednesday, Dean said moving the mosque to another site would be "a better idea."
Lest we forget, there is a large African-American community of Muslims. Hard enough to be black in the U.S. without the dual pressure of being Muslim as well. Yet some of our greatest heroes are Muslim—from Malcolm X to Muhammed Ali. So many of us name our children Malik, Jamal, Khadijah or Aisha.
Islamophobia And The African-American Muslim
By Nicole Balin: Whether it’s vandalizing a Mosque or a hateful taunt, harassment of Muslim Americans post 9/11 is at an all time high. But what about African-American Muslims, who according to the most recent study by the Virginia based Allied Media Corp, make up 24% of 7 million Muslims in America? They can be harder to recognize (they often don’t wear scarves or head dresses) but they are lawmakers, rappers, and even corporate executives.Debra Mubashshir Majeed, an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at Beloit College in Beloit, WI and author of Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America (Indiana University Press, 2006), says this is really about the stereotype of what a Muslim looks like. Dress is the cultural aspect of the faith and interestingly, since 9/11, people associate the Arab garb with Islam.
African-American Muslims range in faith from NOI to Sunni to Sufi. Masjids are not uncommon in our neighborhoods, from Harlem to Chicago to Detroit.
Islamaphobia infects even our presidential politics. "H" for Hussein, and who can forget these news stories, which still infect our thought processes? Used as a slur, it re-enforces racist Islamophobic memes.
I was proud to see Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, featured at Netroots Nation 2011.
Keith Ellison has represented the Fifth Congressional District of Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives since taking office on January 4, 2007. His philosophy is one of "generosity and inclusiveness." His roots as a community activist and his message of inclusivity through democratic participation resonates throughout the Fifth District. His priorities in Congress are: promoting peace, prosperity for working families, environmental sustainability, and civil and human rights.
He gave this inspiring and rousing keynote address.
He is a bright beacon for our future.
The tentacles of Islamophobia are twined around not just the body politic of the U.S.
Europe as well as the US faces a growing chorus of bigotry documented in Chris Allen's "Islamophobia".
Islamophobia, Chris Allen
Despite numerous sources suggesting that Islamophobia is becoming both increasingly prevalent and societally acceptable in the contemporary world, there remains a lack of textual sources that consider either the phenomenon itself, or its manifestations and consequences. There is no authoritative text that attempts to understand or contextualise what might be seen to be one of the most dangerous prejudices in the contemporary climate. Chris Allen begins by looking at ways of defining and understanding Islamophobia. He traces its historical evolution to the present day, considering the impact of recent events and their aftermath especially in the wake of the events of September 11, before trying to understand and comprehend a wider conception of the phenomenon. A series of investigations thematically consider the role of the media, the contemporary positioning of Muslims throughout the world, and whether Islamophobia can be seen to be a continuum of historical anti-Muslimism or anti-Islamism, or whether Islamophobia is an entirely modern concept. The issue of Islamophobia is considered from the perspective of the local, regional, and global. The incidence of Islamophobia, and the magnitude of the phenomenon and its consequences, is one that warrants a greater investigation in the world today.
So what is to be done? What does the future hold for Muslims in the U.S. 10 years after the towers are no more?
10th Anniversary of 9/11 and Muslim Americans: the Need for a New Narrative
While post-9/11 resulted in necessary Western government responses to counter international and domestic terrorism, this tragic event has been widely exploited by far-right neocons, hardline Christian Zionist Right and xenophobic forces. Islam and mainstream Muslims have been brush-stroked with "terrorism," equated with the actions of a fraction of violent extremists. Major polls by Gallup, PEW and others reported the extent to which many Americans and Europeans had and have a problem not only with terrorists but also with Islam and all Muslims.
Islamophobia grew exponentially, as witnessed in America's 2008 presidential and 2010 congressional elections, Park 51 and post-Park 51 anti-mosque and so-called anti-Shariah campaigns, as well as increased hate speech and violence. The massacre in Norway is a tragic signal of this metastasizing social cancer. Anders Behring Breivik's 1500-page manifesto confirmed the influence of the hate speech spread by American anti-Muslim (Islamophobic) leaders, organizations and websites.
It is truly time for a new narrative, one that is informed by facts, and that is data-driven, to replace the shrill voices of militant Muslim bashers and opportunistic politicians chasing funds and votes. Key findings from the recently released Abu Dhabi Gallup Report, Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future, offer data that provide a good starting point -- a very different picture of Muslims in America today.
Let us join together with our Muslim brothers and sisters to fight intolerance and bigotry.
Join up with Americans Against Islamophobia.
Let the beacons of light that mark the site of the towers guide us to a place of peace and understanding.
Let us build new towers of spirit, forged in solidarity, not rooted in animosity and bigotry.
Peace be upon you.