On 9/11/11, I spent a few hours watching memorial services and the footage from 9/11/01 that MSNBC has re-aired every year since. It’s incredibly difficult, but I’ve found it important over the past decade to take that time for reflection.
A mere two days later, though, I’m already distracted by this story that’s been making waves on the internet. The author, Shoshana Hebshi, is half Jewish and half Arab, and she sat beside two Indian men on a flight from Denver and Detroit. All three were detained and strip searched before they were released with a feeble apology, and explanation from authorities that people were “seeing ghosts” on 9/11. Apparently, to be identified as a ghost, one need only look slightly different from the majority of other passengers.
This particular passage stood out to me:
As I sat and waited, quietly contemplating my situation, the other Indian man was getting questioned in the main room outside. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I could hear a bit. They asked him where he was from, did he have any family, where were his shoes. He talked quietly and agreeably. I wondered if he was as incensed as I was or if he had entered this country expecting harassment from the American authorities.
“Quiet.” “Agreeable.” These are words I often hear about South Asians. When I was pitching the story of 9/11 backlash to the area’s South Asian radio station, the host remarked that our community is extremely reluctant to speak out, and yet, hopes to achieve assimilation.
Maybe in simpler times, that assimilation could come about more quietly and smoothly. But we live in times of great fear and mistrust, and as such, have our loyalties questioned because of the color of our skin, the languages we speak, the religions we practice. Keeping our heads down and shying away from the issues will only alienate us from the discourse - and we can’t keep expecting others to speak up for us.
Here’s Aasif Mandvi summing it up for Bloomberg:
Fear and mistrust have trumped courage and unity. That moment when the world came together and shared a grief that transcended faith, nationality and politics is undone…
What I hope for in the next 10 years is a War against Fear.