Seeing Ghosts

On 9/11 my husband Cliff’s assistant, Krystina, and her husband Nouri had to travel by plane to Arizona. As Muslim Americans, they were not keen on traveling that day. Krystina wears a hijab and Nouri has a beard – physical descriptors that on a normal day in Cambridge are not unusual, but on 9/11 had the potential to be suspect. They had no choice but to travel that day, so prepared themselves mentally for potential questioning at security checks.

On return she said that their experience couldn’t have been better. In fact, she said, they were some of the best flights she has experienced in America. It turns out everyone was not so fortunate.

A blog post that has gone viral details the experience of an American woman who was detained and strip searched on arriving at the Detroit airport. Shoshana Hebshi self identifies as a half-Arab, half-Jewish American. She is from Ohio and her blog post can be seen here. It’s well worth reading. As I read it, the statement that I could not stop thinking about was a statement by an FBI agent after it was all over. He said: “It’s 9/11 and people are seeing ghosts. They are seeing things that aren’t there.” 

This statement sums up much of the reactivity since 9/11. Not only about Islam, but about other areas as well. Never before has our country seen such cultural diversity but along with the diversity comes suspicion. “They aren’t like us” is the internal recording. With that internal recording comes assumptions. With assumptions, people react before weighing the evidence. They react without knowledge. People see things that aren’t there. The lens through which they view the world is colored through assumption, not reality. People see ghosts.

Shoshana doesn’t wear a veil, but her skin is darker than the average mid-westerner and she was seated with two gentleman, unrelated, who also had darker skin. Think, for a moment, about skin color. There are 1.2 billion people in India, most of them with skin that is darker than mine. That’s a lot of terrorists if our assumption is based on skin color. The person who reported that there was suspicious activity fell victim to fear and imagination, seeing normal activity as potential for harm.

There were heightened alerts this past Sunday and so security was increased. Arguably, homeland security and the FBI were just doing their job on a day when tension was high. But they aren’t the only ones with a job to do. Citizens have a job as well and it isn’t a job that should be done out of fear and suspicion. We should be aware, we should be savvy, and we should have common sense. We should not assume that terror lies with skin color. We should check our vision before calling out ghosts.

My daughter Stefanie had a prompt in her college writing class. The prompt was “My generation of Americans never experienced a pre 9/11 America as adults. Because of this, we are different from previous generations in that …” Here is her response – it’s her way of removing ghosts.

The Post-9/11 Generation

From a young age I was raised knowing words in Arabic and eating delectable Middle Eastern dishes multiple times a week. The Middle East has always been relevant to my upbringing. I consider myself a rarity among my generation for the fact that Islam wasn’t a foreign concept to me prior to 9/11. My generation of Americans never experienced a pre 9/11 America as adults. Because of this, we are different from previous generations in that we have mistakenly fashioned our beliefs about the Middle East and Islam from the tragedy of 9/11.

Often the tragedies that reek havoc in our lives leave us blaming the people who caused us pain. In regards to 9/11, we often unjustly blame the entire Islamic community versus the small group of extremists that made-up Al Qaeda. In our current generation, we undermine what it means to suffer and we forget, and furthermore, neglect the fact that 9/11 did not just hurt our nation, but hurt the 99.999999999 percent of Muslims who are not extremists and not associated with Al Qaeda. Circling a popular blogging site was a quote from a man named Aman Ali. Here is how he poignantly put it:

“As a Muslim, I’m sick of people asking me how I feel about 9/11…I was born and raised in this country and was just as shocked as everyone else to learn there were people on this earth so vile as to commit such a horrific attack – or to even think about doing it. But I didn’t do it. Neither did 99.999999999 percent of the roughly 1.5 billion people in the world who also call themselves Muslims. So why should I or any other Muslim apologize for what happened? Nickleback is planning on releasing another album. Should I ask white people to apologize for that?”

Because Islamic extremists skewed our perceptions of Muslims, our generation stands on false assumptions about both the Middle East and Islam. The fact that Ali still has to make a defense as shown above proves that racism, whether we see it in our everyday lives or not, is still haunting us 10 years later.

Shoshana Hebshi is half Arab and half Jewish, but was raised in America and resides in Ohio. Hebshi is a perfect example of how our generation, even ten years later, is alive with profiling people from Middle Eastern descent. Hebshi made the mistake of travelling on 9/11 and before her flight she casually chatted with two Indian American men. This detail, along with her dark skin tone, was apparently reason enough to be detained in “the Land of the Free”. On her blog, Hebshi posted a devastating story in which she tells the readers: “Silly me. I thought flying on 9/11 would be easy…security might be ratcheted up, we’d all feel safer knowing we had come a long way since that dreadful Tuesday morning 10 years ago. But then armed officers stormed my plane, threw me in handcuffs and locked me up.” On the 10th anniversary of 9/11 it is obvious just how prominently our views have been shaped by the destruction of a few Islamic extremists. Hebshi agrees that our generation has still not broken free from our perceptions of Muslims. Hebshi ends with these explanatory words: “We live in a complicated world that, to me, seems to have reached a breaking point. The real test will be if we decide to break free from our fears and hatred and truly try to be good people who practice compassion–even toward those who hate.”

Both Ali and Hebshi display ways that our generation still has great strides to make involving the way we view and treat those from an Islamic background. Although we do not face it on a daily basis, it is important to remember that our views have been skewed by the tragedy of 9/11 and, thus, we must learn to alter our harsh judgments before we watch ourselves commit heinous crimes against innocent Muslims, just as crimes were committed against us 10 years ago.

3 thoughts on “Seeing Ghosts

  1. Brava Stefanie! I’m heartened when someone of your generation expresses such informed, reasoned opinions that reject racist and stereotyped views. I look forward to reading more of what you think and to cheering, supporting and helping as you and others illuminate places of darkness in our world with the light of your compassion!

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