My September 11 Muslim Story

Each year, the victims of the 9/11 attacks are mourned, and rightfully so. But, outside of the field of those died on 9/11 are those who have died because of 9/11 – mostly Muslims and those racialized as Muslims, domestically and abroad because of U.S. counterterrorism policies.

fear incEach year, the victims of the 9/11 attacks are mourned, and rightfully so. But, outside of the field of those died on 9/11 are those who have died because of 9/11 – mostly Muslims and those racialized as Muslims, domestically and abroad because of U.S. counterterrorism policies.

While the killing of innocent people should always be mourned and the perpetrators brought to justice, the war on terror has taught Muslims that there is an exception to this rule – that Muslims can be detained, tortured and even killed under the guise of national security, and that there will be virtually no accountability. Muslim bodies, after all have effectively become nothing more than pawns through which American lives are kept “safe.”

In a speech by former President Obama on commemorating the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he stated that “our diversity — our patchwork heritage — is not a weakness; it is still, and always will be, one of our greatest strengths. This is the America that was attacked that September morning. This is the America that we must remain true to.”  What he didn’t mention, is that this is also the America that has used state violence to victimize innocent Muslims in the war on terror based on the premise of collective responsibility.

This is also the America whose war on terror has led to the death of 1.3 million Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and the same America that has housed an exclusive population of Muslim males at an illegally based offshore prison that is Guantanamo Bay.

This is the America that only understands security through militarism and militaristic means, and the same America that continues to murder to innocent civilians in Iraq and Syria calling their deaths “unintentional,” as if missile strikes could ever only target alleged terrorists.

But this is the logic of the war on terror – that is that “collateral damage,” or in other words, an increased body count, is what has/will keep us safer. That’s why it doesn’t matter when we hear stories of Muslim prisoners freezing to death or being subjected to rectal feeding – Muslims are dehumanized “others” whose lives (and deaths) are only important as a means to an end.

It has now been sixteen years since the 9/11 attacks, and as a Muslim American, each year I mourn the endless amount of violence that my communities have experienced not just at the hands of the state, but from society at large. The state has set a powerfully negative example of the type of treatment that Muslims can and should be subjected to and society is simply responding in turn.

This means that Muslims’ safety is precarious and inextricably caught up with the cycle of Islamophobic violence vacillating between the state and society.

Today, DC Justice for Muslims Campaign launched the social media campaign #MySept11MuslimStory with a twitter townhall to uplift the violence experienced by Muslim communities and to sideline and marginalize the narrative of collective responsibility.

Despite continued violence at the hands of the state and society, Muslims will continue to resist oppression – after all, our existence is resistance and one day there will be #JusticeForMuslims.

Maha Hilal, Ph.D., is the Michael Ratner Middle East fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She’s also a steering committee member of DC Justice for Muslims Coalition, an organizer with Witness Against Torture, and a board member of the DC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

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