The Aftermath of 9/11


Aidan Bartos

Article from Orlando Sentinel after 9/11

When the tragedy of September 11 occurred, I was yet to be born. At the time, my mother was living in a village up in rural Yemen with a one-year-old. When the news broadcasted the tragedy on their outdated televisions, my mom was outside putting up the laundry.

There was screaming coming from inside. Women were yelling out, “they bombed America!” Instantly the mood of the day was ruined, and the whole village was filled with panic. Men and women alike were worrying about the revenge America would take out on them over something someone else did.

Soon the panic spread throughout all of Yemen.

There were women praying at home with their children, hoping that nothing would happen to them. My mother was one of those women. Eventually, the fear was too much to bear, so she accepted the idea that America might take their revenge on little old Yemen.

Back in America, my aunt, uncle, and their children lived in Visalia at the time. After 9/11, there was this ignorant belief that Muslims and Middle Easterners are terrorists and my relatives were victims of this ignorance.

They were spat at, yelled at, cursed at. A couple of times, if they were caught outside, their neighbors would pour milk all over them, throw eggs at them, and say, “go back to your f****** country Sand(slur).”

It became so bad that they couldn’t go outside anymore. When they had to bring in household items, they’d have the man of the house do it for their safety. Even then, he would still be attacked by these people.

You’d think people would stop associating us with terrorists, but the ignorance never went away, even as time passed. When I was a kid, every time September 11 would come around, all the kids in school and teachers would stare at me all day, expecting me to say or do something.

And what could I say? I was just a child born in a world where people assume one person’s wrongdoings are everyone’s wrongdoing. I wasn’t as tough as my brothers, who’d beat up anyone who said anything racist to them, so the bullying, stares, and whispers got to me. It was so bad that my mother decided to let me stay home once on September 11.

The next day, I returned to school, and one of the kids asked me, “why weren’t you here yesterday? Were you celebrating with your family?” I ignored him, but he and his group of friends didn’t stop there. Their racist “bomb” jokes filled with “Allahu Akbar” were all I could remember that day.

These moments I experienced from such a young age made me believe that the only way I could ever avoid comments like these is by acting American. So I taught myself to speak like my American friends, dress like my American friends and rejected the culture I came from.

I hated it when there were other Arab kids at school because everyone would ask, “are you guys related?” I stopped speaking in my native tongue. I was ashamed of my origins. I was ashamed of where I came from, and I was ashamed of my mother, who walked around with a headscarf. And most importantly, I was ashamed of myself.

I went from Safa Ahmed to Sophia Adams.

The funny thing is, it didn’t work. People still saw me differently as soon as they figured out my real name. No amount of changing how I speak, my clothes, my attitude could ever change that. In their eyes, I was a Middle Eastern girl who’s supposedly an oppressed terrorist, and it took me so long to realize that.

I’m not the only one who went through this in my life. Many of the youths in my community went through the same because we grew up believing there was something wrong with us. Eventually, after so many years of hating ourselves, we realize it wasn’t us that was the problem. It was the racist community we grew up in.

After 9/11, many Middle Easterners were guilty of something we had no part of, which created a cycle of self-hate. It’s these issues we stay blind to because it’s hard to admit that there’s a problem in our country: in America.

No one wants to admit that their country isn’t great and was never great. Realizing it and accepting it is the first step to change. It isn’t difficult to realize that the actions of one person do not define the actions of a group.

We are not terrorists. We are humans just like you.