Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 At Brigham Young University

When the planes hit the two towers in NY, and hit the Pentagon in Virginia and crashed the airplane in a Pennsylvania filed, like billions around the world I was shocked and saddened by what I saw before my eyes. I read the story in my dorm room early morning on Aljazeera Arabic news website right before the second airplane hits the second tower. It was horrifying news, but at that point news reports were saying it might be an accident. I have made a habit of reading the news every morning to check up on my family in Gaza as the second intifada was in full affect .Little did I know, I was relieved that that day Gaza didn’t make the news.

“Steve, this is going to be big”, I woke up my very socially conservative roommate and told him to check on it. I wear a t-shirt I have bought a week earlier in NY City with the two towers in the center of it. I headed to my Spanish class which was meeting at 8 AM. As I entered the building, all of a sudden my savvy and unassuming American classmates were tuning in to the news and watching the development as it unfolds.

There were all sorts of rumors going on, I overheard people talking about different groups responsible. I realized how my t-shirt would be offensive to people so I wear it inside out. There was an elephant in the room as the events were on everyone mind and there I was sitting in the front row. Once my class finished, I headed to the Near East Studies Department as I had to meet with students learning Arabic. Ten days prior to 9/11, I was hired to assist in teaching Arabic. I think the class used to have 10 to 15 students. Needless to say the following semester classes would grow to 50and 80 students per class.

There’s a tradition at Brigham Young University to hold a university wide devotion for an hour and 15 minutes where the entire university shuts down and everyone tunes in to a religious speech and sometimes non-religious speeches. 9/11 was on a Tuesday and I was one of the student body a=on that day, I joined my friends to attend the university devotion. The University’s President was to address the student body and the faculty. I was filled with shame that day, confused and have no idea what is happening in the name of religion and in the name of my culture. At some point I wanted the earth to open and swallow me as I had no word to describe this anger I had.

In his speech the President offered condolences to the nations and to those who have lost a loved one. post. He went on to detail actions regarding the Church missionaries in lower Manhattan. Then in a very clear language, he asked the university body not to rush to judgment and not to target specific people (wink, wink) on campus. Upon hearing his words, I felt comfort and peace. Most of the Muslims students (about a 100 ) had feared for their safety, as it became clear, it was violent Muslim extremists behind those attacks. While less than an hour away, a Sikh man was killed in Salt Lake City for being mistaken for a Muslim. Nothing that dramatic happened on campus.

The university even went a step further, they called for a meeting with Arab and Muslim students on campus and assured us they will take measures to protect us and handle any threats against any of us. Even being a Christan Arab doesn't shield one form attacks and prejudice. All around the country Muslims students feared from their lives and left the states--mostly from the Rich Gulf states. But from most of us at BYU from places like Gaza, Hebron, Karachi, and Bangladeshis, we were much safer in the states so going home was not an option. I remember, a good friend of us, a member of the LDS Church and a native of South Carolina, called some of us and asked us if we felt safe at BYU. “we have enough guns in the house to keep you guys safe”, trust me in his friendly southern accent that was very assuring.

At that meeting, I was very disappointed in my faith as the media slandered just in every possible way. I was disgusted too. I told professor Donna Lee Bowen, a professor of Islam and political science “They want me to hate my own faith.” She looked at me, and told me “Don’t Let Them”, she assured me that everything will be ok. a year later Bowen went on and argued against the war in Iraq. The conservative student body dismissed her arguments. I now can say, she was right twice.

I think many Church members were encouraged to reach out to Muslims and Arabs in their communities. I remember I was invited to so many Sunday dinners from super sweet people who wanted us to feel welcome. I have also been given opportunities to speak in many Churches about my faith. These things you would imagine seeing in liberal havens, not the most Republican safe spot in the land. Many people I met in DC are always curious to hear about my story out in Utah. I often tell them it won;t be as saucy as you might imagine.

The lack of backlashes could be a result of the the teaching and guidelines of the church that members take very seriously. Or perhaps that I was living on a University campus where the educated and enlightened all over the place.

It wasn’t all fine and dandy of course, there were some low moments. The only incident I’ve hear came from an Egyptian student at BYU who was working on her graduate degree in Chemistry, she had to put up with a bigoted professor who would direct negative comments toward her. there are those closet bigots too, but throughout the human history those have never mattered.

Again as the 10 anniversary is upon us I mourn the death of innocents people here on 9/11 before and after. There are countless who lose their lives everyday and we hear little about them. I am grateful my life brought me here to those shores, a land with stark laws and citizens tenacious to abide by them at times like these. Those who abide by the law of the land domestically and those who do not abuse the human rights international do far more to proof the hateful bunch are wrong than any other response.

As we remember this tragic Day take a moment to send my heartfelt sincere condolences to those who scarified and continue to sacrifice till this day so that America can be the beacon of hope.


Jeremy Palmer on September 12, 2011 at 1:40 PM said...

Thank you for this Hani. I was living in the Arabic house at BYU when this happened. A Palestinian student - you know him - called our house. I was the one who answered. He said he heard it was the Japanese Red Army. All too soon we all learned the sad truth. Allah bless you. Jeremy



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