The aftereffects of 9/11 persist to this day

We must remember to honor and remember all the lives that day’s tragedy affected.

Alia Jeraj

Friday marked 14 years since two hijacked planes crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center, a tragedy whose effects shook the world.
 
I was seven years old on Sept. 11, 2001, and my family was in the midst of preparing to move from Hawaii to Minnesota. I remember being confused by the words “terrorist” and “tourist.” Having been surrounded by an abundance of the latter for seven years without incident, I couldn’t understand why the mainlanders had turned on New York. 
 
However, after figuring out the difference between the first syllables of those words, I was confronted with a host of other issues to consider. Traveling anywhere from Hawaii requires getting on a plane. Without extended family on the islands, I had grown up loving airports and flying. On Sept. 15, four days after the tragedy, my family of three
boarded a plane destined for California — we were Alia, Laura and Karimmohammed.
 
I remember that day being the first time I felt uncomfortable at an airport. It was the first — though certainly not the last — time my dad received some questioning looks and extra screening. My mom recalls that my dad kept a baseball cap on his head as we spent two weeks driving from California to Minnesota with an American flag decal freshly applied to our car. 
 
Over the past 14 years, I’ve struggled with my identity as a Muslim-American. For me, it’s not exactly a religious label, but it’s certainly a cultural one. I am privileged with an ambiguously caramel shade of skin that’s rarely given a religious attachment. I include that detail here to note that my experiences are far from those of Muslims, whose religion is easily identifiable, and who thus face oppression and persecution far beyond what I face. 
 
However, my Arabic name and cultural background have certainly revealed to me some of 9/11’s less commonly considered aftereffects. An ex-boyfriend’s mom, with whom I got along splendidly, once made a negative comment about my religion with regard to my relationship with her son. Even now, 14 years after 9/11, I still get twinges of anxiety whenever I hand over my U.S. passport to re-enter the country. 
 
As we commemorate the horrific tragedy of 9/11, it’s important to honor the 2,977 lives lost on that day, as well as the millions of lives lost on all sides of the wars that followed it. However, an aspect I think many people discount in remembering the tragedy is the tremendous impact it has had — and that it continues to have — on the lives of millions of Muslim-Americans. 
 
Since 9/11, annual anti-Muslim hate crimes have more than tripled. My graduating class represents some of the youngest people who have access to memories of pre- and post-9/11. Thus, we can attest to the immense change in attitude toward Muslim-Americans after that day. 
 
We have a responsibility to pass on that knowledge and to ensure that we are devoting time and remembrance to those who are still overcome with anxiety as they simply make their way through airport security.