Nine-Eleven shocked America. I remember my own disbelief and anger viewing images of smoke bellowing from the Twin Towers then the Towers collapsing, the damaged Pentagon and United Flight 93, headed for the White House, having crashed in Western Pennsylvania. The disaster proved equally eventful for Ameena Jandali.
A Colorado native and resident of the East Bay, Ameena, is an American-born Muslim. She recently co-led a course on Islam and Judaism: One God, Two Paths at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel. “Nine-Eleven was a shock,” she says. For the first few days she was afraid to leave her house. “I thought our life was over. Then I got tired of that. I went out. The East Bay is pretty tolerant. Nothing really bad happened to me although I heard of discrimination and hate across the country.”
The Muslim community rose to address Islamophobia. Americans knew Muslims as overseas terrorists, not next-door neighbors. Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, for whom Ameena directs content development, got busy. Still, the situation remained dicey.
“In some ways, things are worse now,” Ameena says. “There have been more terror attacks. Hate has ratcheted up. People demonize Muslims.” Still many people now know more about Islam and can distinguish between terrorists and regular Muslims. Interfaith activities have helped.
Bright spots exist. Keith Ellison a Democrat from Minnesota, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. So does André Carson, (Dem.-Indiana). M. Saud Anwar, a Yale-educated physician, is mayor of South Windsor, Connecticut.
Ameena’s children experienced some discrimination at school. Her oldest daughter, now an adult, wore a headscarf in middle school and was often subjected to negative comments and teasing. Her middle son is blond and not generally noticed as a Muslim. But in high school, Ameena found a piece of paper his friends had written—the timeline of a suicide bomber. Her youngest daughter did not have the same negative experiences that her sister had. In fact, she was often told how beautiful her scarves were. Her youngest son was recently called a terrorist in middle school. He was upset but said the kids were joking. Ameena asked if she should speak to the principal. Her son told her, “Everyone jokes about everyone else.” Ameena wasn’t amused but didn’t pursue it.
As to the future, Ameena notes that people are getting used to others who are different. But, she, notes there’s a fine line to be walked. As minorities grow, they often transform from colorful to threatening. She believes that things are looking up barring another major incident. “More American Muslims are being born. There’s an authentic American-Muslim identity being created.” This presents the same challenges all ethnic Americans face—distractions like the Internet and video games taking young people away from their parents’ ways. Still, Ameena believes, “The new generation can combine the best of both worlds—traditional values and American know-how and efficiency.”
Ameena’s challenges are those of all Americans. If our core values really mean anything, we will embrace all our citizens whatever their faith beliefs—or lack of them. Turning the words of the fabled cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo around a bit, we have met our friends, and they are us.
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Read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review. Look for my new novel, The Boy Walker, in January—available at Amazo.com, Barnesandnoble.com and iUniverse.com.