Straddling a Culture Fence: Thoughts from a Mixed Descent All-American on 9/11
Part Palestinian, part Scotch-Irish, an American woman's unique perspective of the tragic event and what followed.
I was holding my newborn daughter at the front door while kissing my husband good-bye as he left for work.
Just then my neighbor called out, "Did you hear what happened? A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”
As a mother, I was terrified for my kids. What was going on? Are there more planes and where will they hit?
It was hard to sit still and watch. As a wife, I wanted my husband to turn around and come home. He assured me that he would be all right. As an American, I hoped my country was not being attacked. Was this an act of war? Why is this happening? As a human being, I just wanted answers. I thought of all of the people in the buildings and their families watching helplessly, and I began to sob.
Many American mothers can easily relate to what I just described. We all felt scared, lost and helpless that morning.
My name is Nabeha, and I have a unique perspective.
My father is from Palestine. My mother was a combination of mostly Irish, Scottish and American Indian descent who was from the South.
I just celebrated Eid Al-Fitr and will celebrate Christmas in December.
My mom had her heart set on naming me Alicia Marie. When I was born, my father suggested they name me after my maternal grandmother. My mother agreed, but added Mary, an American sounding middle name, "just in case I needed it."
I grew up watching the news of hijacked flights by "Arab terrorists," followed by movies constantly portraying the evil Arab complete with mustache and inaccurate accent. The cartoon villain, also with a mustache, who tied the helpless woman to train tracks seemed eerily similar to the Arabs portrayed on TV.
As a person of partly Middle Eastern descent, I hoped the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack would not be Arab or Muslim.
Then the news media reported that Osama bin Laden had claimed responsibility. My heart sank.
My Aunt Margaret was a Sunday school teacher who taught me to sing Bible songs. I also attended Islamic study at the mosque in Bridgeview on a weekly basis for a while. My take was that both religions passed on the same stories, taught us about the same prophets (aside from Prophet Mohammad in Islam), and sent the same message. People should do what is right, be kind and help one another. In other words, we should live harmoniously.
The Islam I knew did not warrant this type of horrific and evil action. How dare these deranged people committing acts such as these defame a religion and claim to be doing so in the name of it?
I knew backlash would soon follow, and it did. People were gunning down others, attacking their neighbors because of their religion. A Sikh man from India was shot to death while working at his Arizona gas station, because he apparently looked Middle Eastern to a man who is now serving a life sentence for the crime.
I can see why people were angry. We all look to point the finger of blame when we are hurting and mad. But more violence against people who had no more to do with what just happened than you was not the answer. Blaming billions of people for the acts of few is senseless.
People who I had known for years, who never thought twice about my heritage, suddenly had questions, lots of them. I often wondered if they chose me to talk to because I don’t wear a headscarf.
People were rapid-fire asking me, "Why do some women cover their heads and some not? What does Allah mean? Why no pork and alcohol?"
I obliged with answers. I do so even today because if people become just a little familiar with different religions and ways of life, they might not be so quick to jump to a generalized conclusion.
After all, we’re inherently cautious of what we do not understand.
At the same time, I felt like I was explaining away, like a defense attorney, why Islam is not an evil faith. This role robbed me of my time to grieve and mourn. Am I less of the collective American culture because I am of a mixed culture and a mixed-faith home? Is my being born to a Muslim father an automatic "you are one of them, not us" card?
My country was attacked that day and I felt the same things my neighbors were feeling.
I had as much anger for the perpetrators of the attack as they did. But what really bothered me was why others would think I wouldn’t.
My mother's side of the family worried about our safety.
"Ignorance and anger are a dangerous combination," my aunt Donna said after the attack.
In my mind, it all comes down to this: a horrible act happened 10 years ago. To blame an entire people of a particular faith for the actions of a few is flat out wrong.
We all want what is best for ourselves and the people we love.
When we allow radical people, governments or groups to alter the way we live, think or feel, we have given them more power than they deserve.
I feel this way not as a Muslim or a Christian, an Arab or person of Western European or even American Indian descent, but as an American.
That is what I am.
Yes, even with a name like Nabeha.