9/11 Reflections: Seeing Myself in America
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
[This is an excerpt from the article in Lancaster Newspapers: see link below]
Being an American
I was asked to write about my perspective as a Muslim American on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 as someone who lived through it. Twenty years later, I remain a Muslim, but my perspective on Sept. 11, 2001, is not as a Muslim American but simply as an American. Let me explain.
20 years ago, I was a graduate student, struggling to make ends meet in my dream city as a foreigner, not exactly sure where I belonged in this world. When the first plane struck, I was in Long Island City in the borough of Queens [my story from that day is in the post below]. Along with overwhelming sadness, I felt anger that my faith was hijacked by terrorists who used the banner of Islam to unleash mass murder. I felt the raw reality of Muslims being under the umbrella of national and international blame.
But in 2021 — also my 10-year anniversary of having earned my U.S. citizenship — my perspective is simply that of an American.
When I was 6, I was uprooted from my beloved grandparents and from Bangladesh, my country of birth, as my family embarked on a quest for a life beyond abject poverty. My family made a new home in a different country, in Africa. And then my parents were held at gunpoint, on a farm in which they had invested their life savings, because the government decided that my family did not belong to that country.
I thought about all this on a family trip this summer, when I was drinking in the big, bold, free skies of Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. Being an American is personal; it’s a dream come true, and every day I am my own empowering and humbling reminder of what it means to be an American.
I feel protective of America, of the American spirit of freedom that requires no external permission. I feel joy in watching the U.S. flag raised on the Olympic podium, as the dedication and exceptionalism of an athlete who represents America is celebrated. I feel hope in the difficult conversations and sacrifices Americans are willing to make to tear down the existing structure of social injustice, so they can create one built on equity and integration.
Seeing myself in America
Twenty years after 9/11, I see myself in America, and I see America in me. Like America, I am made of the tapestry of my experiences. I was not born enlightened or entitled, so like America, I am still evolving, making mistakes, learning, but recognizing my personal part in our shared freedom.
Like America, I appreciate the grace from my loved ones, who don’t define me by my faults and my worst days — who have good faith in my efforts to do better. Love means holding me accountable for my mistakes, and then giving me shelter and support to make the changes I need to make.
What has not changed from 20 years ago is how I choose to define the country that I now call home. I still define America by the people who shared their water with strangers while walking across a bridge connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, as we watched a symbol of American greatness fall to the ground.
I still define America by the person who guided me to safety away from the falling World Trade Center buildings. This was not a viral social media moment — there was no such thing at the time — but a real and lasting moment with real Americans surviving on shared good faith.
Another advantage of being an immigrant is that you learn to not define the value of the country by the politicians and administrators who pander to the powerful to attain their positions. America stands on the shoulders of Americans, and Americans showed me how to be an American, on 9/11.
l would not bet against the nation that rose back up to rebuild the symbol of its financial success. I would not bet against a nation of men and women brave enough to serve for freedom, or the Gold Star families who bear an immeasurable burden for that freedom.
I wouldn’t bet against America because I would not bet against my home, my family, my friends, my community — I would not bet against myself.
I applaud the unyielding American thirst for life. I feel it. I am here for it! And I think it is that particular brand of freedom, that vibe of joie de vivre, that unshakable American confidence that requires no external validation, that the terrorists of 9/11 had tried to kill. But nothing can kill such spirit of freedom from the outside, as long as this freedom thrives from within.
So, on this 20-year anniversary of the brutal terrorist attacks that tried to kill America, I say, “America, keep learning from your past, keep doing better in the present, keep thriving into the future! You have Americans — myself included — across this nation, looking up to your magnificent skies and cheering you on!”
Nazli W. Hardy, Ph.D., is the founder of Woman Empowered (NazliHardy.com). She is associate professor of computer science and chair of the Women in Science & Technology Conference at Millersville University.
Published in Lancaster Newspapers