The day began with sky-oh so warm and blue warm with what was left over from summer, warm with what was not yet fall. The day began with blue, bright sky and I was unaware of it, buried as I was in my new black laptop trying to hammer out an essay arguing for JD Salinger and parking meters or something just as disjointed. The structure just wouldn’t fit. I couldn’t figure out how to fit my language into the upside down pyramid. I kept sliding down on the structure’s shiny sides. I will cram these ideas into 500 words, into sentences that open like animals in a food chain, perfect harmony. I will make a chain that blooms. I will. And at just after nine o’clock that was my focus when the phone beside me rings. It’s Greg, my brother.
Just wanted to make sure you’re OK and everything.
Uh, yeah. Just trying to finish this essay. I have class at noon. God, I hate my teacher, you know and I just suck at this essay shit.
M.C., a plane hit the twin towers.
The World Trade Center towers. A plane just hit one.
And in my head I see a plane fly too low and tip off the top of a very tall antenna.
Uh, hu. Oh. Well, I’m fine. I have to get going and get this printed out before I run to the train.
No, M.C. I don’t think the trains are going to be running. You just stay home.
And I did. Turned on the T.V. and watched the broadcasts of dust and screams on NBC, CBS, WB. I stayed home and watched Aljazeera footage: people in gray suits sailing from the 20th floor, letting go of briefcases, pages fluttering through the blue out of their hands. They showed footage on Aljazeera and the French channel TV 5 they would never show in the U.S.
(But I was here in New York watching it.
That is just one thing that is strange about place. It is so completely fluid. If I wore a short skirt down Steinway Street over by the Mosque at 25th Ave, the whole town of Sig in rural Algeria would have heard about it within 24 hours. You tell me where I am and I will have to correct you.)
Was it ABC that showed footage of “Arab Muslims” dancing and burning the American flag, glorifying the day? Was it all the networks that kept showing the footage over and over again without giving specifics as to who these “Arab Muslims” were exactly?
That necessarily leads us watching to group Arab Muslims together as a group that hates us, that loves the destruction of our friends and family, the destruction of US.
But who is watching these Muslims? I am watching, with Larbi asleep in the bedroom still.
All of New York is watching this. The whole fucking country must have seen that. What else to do? We group THEM all together. Those who hate America.
Then there was the assumption that it was Arabs, that it was Muslims who caused this disaster. This murder. Right away. Within minutes of the towers alighting, a-crashing. How could we know so little and yet, we knew who it was already who had done this?
But it was THEM, right? Yeah, but couldn’t we have just has some proof first, couldn’t we have just taken it one step at a time? Suggested that it was Islamic kooks when we had some semi-jelled info pointing us in that direction.
How did they know so fast? How did we know so fast?
The pronouns are not accidental.
Everyone tells you that day changed their lives forever. Life has become divided, hasn’t it, into before 9/11 and after 9/11.
Well, you know, that was before 9/11, someone will say.
I do it, too.
I started majoring in Middle Eastern Studies BEFORE September 11th. (To somehow reassure myself and those around me that I am, indeed authentic. The real deal. Not some ambitious girl looking to work for the CIA)
But really, life entered some place that I am waiting for it to re-emerge from. I am waiting for the Pope to be someone who doesn’t begin his time as the infallible voice of Christ with a speech on “Islam, the religion of violence.” I am waiting for a time when my husband can just fucking get his citizenship papers (it has been 8, yes 8!! years since we got married), when the INS will finally finish up his background check. It has been almost 4 years since they started doing it. Come on, if you haven’t found anything yet, do you really think there is anything there?
I am waiting for everyone to take a step back and maybe check out Hindu Nationalism as the new evil of the world, or maybe just forget about jitterly fixating on a polar opposite. Maybe we don’t need an “other.”
What would my professors say? That America is defining itself by what it is not: Islam. But I am here to say that it is America. Because my beautiful boy with his black Irish curls and deep brown North African eyes, with his Thomas engines and his small, green prayer rug is America.
Has this turned into a rant? Does it have a cohesive thread? Probably not. I keep adding some to it, here and there. It wears me out. Because it is so big, the change these seven years have brought me. I just want some understanding, basic, out there in radio land (by which I mean the place I inhabit, these crazy New York jungle walls and beyond), some bit of knowing of people whose faith is Islam, some understanding of their variety and love and regular-ness.
Or maybe I just want to talk about me (well, that should be a given) and what I have learned in that time about the religion so close to my heart (but not in it). About what I have seen in this time.
Let me just post this now, but I have to warn you, it may be continued