Not long ago, Anders Behring Breivik, 32, a man manufactured by an agenda of hate and extremism, ended the lives of many innocent people in Norway, largely fueled by his hatred for people who support openness to Muslims. To me, as an 18-year-old American Muslim, Breivik’s deplorable act is connected to the legacy of hate and extremism left behind by Osama bin Laden. Breivik’s hatred of Muslims was a mirror of bin Laden’s hatred of the West.
This is the legacy that my generation inherits, and as we begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to meditate upon how we can shake off this history to mold a new future. Muslims need to take back their faith from the hands of extremists. Those who aren’t Muslim need to stop thinking bin Laden represented all the people of my faith.
Our generation is defined by September 11, 2001. On that day, Breivik was a young man in his early 20s. I was in a third grade class at North Elementary in Morgantown, W. Va., talking to my best friend, Eli, dreading the beginning of school. It was a small classroom, so the voices of numerous conversations carried through the air. Soon, homeroom sounded like recess. I was nine years old, so I liked talking about W.W.E. wrestling and Pokémon. I wasn’t old enough to come to grips with the fact that wrestling was, for the most part, a soap opera for guys; and I wasn’t old enough to put “childish things” away by giving up my love of Pokémon for the new Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards. So when I heard my teacher say, “Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center,” I immediately thought, “Those pilots must have been blind.” It took me a couple of years to realize that those nineteen hijackers were certainly blinded—blinded by a man who preached a perverse interpretation of religion, my religion: Islam.
On Sept. 11, 2001 as ordered by Osama bin Laden, a man whom the world–nor I–will ever forgive, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower at 8:46 a.m., followed by United Airlines Flight 175 that hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. In an October 2011 interview, bin Laden said, “The towers are economic power.” To him, his act symbolized the imminent fall of Western globalization. But, to me, and the moderate Muslim community, his act symbolizes how one man can influence a global hatred for an entire religion and the cultures, traditions, and people it encompasses. That September morning, bin Laden became the ambassador of Islam, and the Muslim community immediately fell into shame.
“When teachers ask about the attacks, say it was bad, and do not tell her you are a Muslim,” a Pakistani mother might say to her five-year-old daughter. “Don’t talk about politics in class if it has anything to do with Islam,” a Palestinian father might say to his 15-year-old son.
Muslims in America saw their identity vanishing, and it was due to a man almost 7,000 miles away. Muslims adopted a new found hatred for their own religion, and people began hating Muslims for simply being Muslims.
My sister, Safiyyah, and I produced a song, “Mr. al-Qaeda,” (listen to it here: http://soundcloud.com/soundcloudali786/mr-al-qaeda/s-PEmLs#play) to reflect the grievance of so many Muslims—a grievance caused by the September 11th terrorist attacks. But it’s a grievance not simply against the attacks, but for the way it represented their religion. The song embodies the story of a man whose son is stabbed for being a Muslim. To many in the public, Muslims were now seen as ignoble murderers, led by the lustful promise of virgins in afterlife as an avail of martyrdom.
Two planes crashed,
Up went the Terror level.
Son got stabbed,
In a high school veranda
Thanks a whole lot
In the song, the father contemplates suicide, because he wants to be with his son in heaven. His spirit is completely shattered, and he finds himself asking the classic Shakespearean question, “to be or not to be.”
I ain’t got no religion
‘Cause it got hijacked
Every gain of happiness and content
I credited to my son.
Now thanks to bin Laden,
His life is done.
Rather than be defeated, I believe, we, as Muslims, must continue to strive to take back our faith from the violent interpretation of bin Laden and the violent image that people such as Breivik have of Islam.
Samir A. Nomani is a rising college freshman at the College of the Holy Cross.
and sang it with his sister, Safiyyah Z. Nomani, a rising college junior at Mt. Holyoke College.