Many people can attest to how their lives were forever changed as a result of the 9/11 attacks on America. For months after, we were all on our guard, cautious, fearful even while united in solidarity and in mourning of the near 3,000 people who died at the World Trade Center, on the United Flight 93 plane in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon.
One sad and unfortunate result was a growing fear of Muslims and of all things related to Islam. Anyone who wore a Burqa or kufi or other Muslim garb was hoisted up as a potential terror suspect. The fact that the 9/11 hijackers wore khakis and collared shirts and did not “look” like Muslims did not matter. If you had a Muslim name, you were given extra scrutiny whenever you traveled. Most people were OK with it, even though those who abide by Islamic extremist views are in the minority. So we sanctioned the Patriot Act laws denying due process and we accepted the use of racial profiling.
I have family members who have been victims of racial profiling for all their lives. I knew that for my Muslim relatives, this was an added scarlet letter, especially for those with Muslim names.
That is why when my husband and I were picking names for our firstborn son and settled on an Arabic name we loved the best, we opted for the Christian spelling of the name, with a “C.” We knew the impact of 9/11 on people of Islamic faith and those bearing characteristics and signs of being a Muslim would be felt for a long time. We feared that our son, who would already have to be vigilante when he went about, would be further burdened with possible harassment, stereotyping and discrimination if he were to have a name that sounded like he was a Muslim, even though we are Catholics.
Much rhetoric, demagoguery and political talking points rally around demonizing Muslims, since those who carry out suicide bombings and attacks are often from that faith. Islamaphobia is on the rise and reached a fever pitch over plans to build an Islamic community center at an abandoned building several blocks from the site the World Trade Center. To those who opposed it, having a building erected by those who practiced the religion of the hijackers so close to Ground Zero was too much to bear. It would defame the legacy of those who died there, opponents said.
Several conservatives, including Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, have openly warned that an Islamic code of conduct, called Sharia, will soon infiltrate American courts and laws unless those who practice Islam are suppressed, watched, marginalized and forbidden from exercising their freedom to practice their religion.
Though not without provocation, the fear against Muslim is a legacy of those horror-filled moments after the first plane lodged into the World Trade Center north tower at 8:46 a.m. My firstborn son’s name is but one of many reminders of the impact of that haunting day in American history.