This is a narration of the centrality of 9/11 in a Muslim's life, highlighting its continuous presence by drawing connections between the present and the past. Beginning with listening to radios as a teenager, an experience that I shared with my father, this performance script connects the initial reactions to hearing the news on the radio to my experiences in post-9/11 America. It touches on the experiences of having to hide one's religious beliefs so that the students do not perceive their teacher differently. It shows the power of this event and its haunting presence.
Radios! That was the thing for my dad and me. We always listened to radios. He always got me this small radio, which was usually a smaller version of the one he had. Even though he is an illiterate man, he was fluent in French. That was what he listened to. He listened to Radio France International all day long.
The news was always the same, and it all seemed—despite its significance—rather far away and un-impactful. Radios carry the good and the bad. Listening to radios is like watching the news on a regular basis. The more you listen, the more hearing about death and violence becomes a normal thing.
I remember waking up on that day, praying, and turning on my radio to BBC Arabic to listen to the 6 a.m. news. That was when I heard what had happened. Planes crashing in New York! The terrorists! All of a sudden, my slow world was now moving faster and faster.
I ask my father: “Did you hear about what happened to the Americans?” He says no. He pulls out his radio. For the next few days, we continue to compare stories.
Despite the importance of 9/11 and its catastrophic consequences (the destruction of Iraq was the most visible to all of us), I mistakenly thought that its impact would stop there. This was the case until I came to the United States.
As a Muslim living in post-9/11 America, you have to live up to the expectations of being a good Muslim. If others are proud of being from different religious traditions, you are always doubtful whether you should be proud of your own.
Remembering what happened always brings up this haunting feeling of shame, a feeling of shame that accompanies you. You remember how you come from a place where people still think that 9/11 was justified, that it was right to kill those innocent civilians.
In thinking about it all, you realize that violence is being done to you. You always question yourself and whether you should be open about your religious beliefs with your students.
How would they look at you? Will their views towards you change? Will they give you bad evaluations just because you are different? So, talking about your religious beliefs turns into a terribly designed quantitative experiment. You tell one class and not the other. Those feelings are confirmed when you read your students’ papers and find out about the feelings they have towards Muslims. Muslims are guilty until they prove themselves innocent.
Memories are selective. Some experiences of pain are deemed more important than others. In some ways, memories are like news broadcasts. They too are selective. They choose the right stories (those deemed worthy). They focus on those whose pain is deemed more important. This is how some stories get told while others are forgotten. Memories function the same way. Some stories are deemed worthy of remembering while others are forgotten, or rather, ignored. These are the things radios teach those who listen to them.