After 20 years since the terrorist attacks, American Muslims still face the same questions about their religion. Even their Americanity is questioned.
That situation motivated people like Shukri Olow to do what he was doing: run for the King County Council. Born in Somalia, Olow was brought by his parents to flee the civil war. They lived in refugee camps in Kenya for many years before coming to America when Olow was 10 years old.
His experiences also helped shape Olow’s identity. He is now running for the council in Kent, Washington state.
“As a candidate, especially one who appears clearly Muslim on camera, I have to be careful about the way I behave because I know that for some people, this will be their first time meeting a Muslim or engaging with a Muslim,” Olow said. . “I want to make sure they know that, whatever stereotype or image they have, it’s not the reality for many of us.”
In the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City, Shahana Hanif remembers being called a terrorist while walking outside. It was 2001, just weeks after the World Trade Center’s twin minarets collapsed, Shahana Hanif and her younger sister were walking to a mosque near their home in Brooklyn. Confused and frightened, the two girls immediately ran home.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks last weekend, Hanif reflected on the impact his experience had on his decision to run for the New York city council.
“The incident left a mark. And that’s the trauma I felt. So I realized that young people who grew up with vivid memories of 9/11 need support,” said Hanif.
Returning to the Western United States, Olow shares the same sentiment.
“I think that experience actually pushed me to run. The feeling of being a different person and the feeling that I am not welcome here. I stand against that rhetoric and claim that this is also my home,” he said. “This is the country where I live. at most, almost twenty-three years now. I want to create an environment where, regardless of what other people do, we know that we are welcome here, that we are safe here.”
Mansoor Shams served in the US military as a marine, from 2000-2004. He recalled how the abuse he received at that time affected his life.
“I sometimes wonder now, maybe I would have served longer in the Marine Corps, maybe I would (not) have retired from the Marine Corps had I not had some of those experiences because what they did had a huge impact on me as a person, as a person. Aren’t I human too?” said Shams.
He believes the biases he experienced then still exist today. That’s why when booking accommodation at a recent Niagara Falls resort, Shams told the hotel receptionist that it was for children attending a “house of worship.” He did not say that they were actually going to the mosque there.
“Because I was confused, if he knew, maybe he would treat me differently. Maybe they would say, ‘Oh, we don’t want them to come here.’ And it’s 20 years after 9/11, I still have to have these feelings. So, we haven’t made much progress. Is that so? I don’t think we can call that progress.” [ka/ab]