Elena’s mother is from Iraq and during 9/11 she reflects on how her family is affected by it even years later. Jacob Musselman, DN; Elliot DeRose DN Illustration
Loud and Clear: Never forget my Iraqi family
The Middle East suffered more in a post-9/11 world than the United States ever did
Elena Stidham is a senior journalism and telecommunications major and writes “Loud and Clear” for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Elena at email@example.com.
9/11 was a day everyone remembers in detail; where they were, who they were with and what they were doing.
Nobody ever asks me where I was the first time someone called me a terrorist.
I was in preschool, about 4 years old, when I asked a boy to play a game with me. He gave me a look, one I would later learn was full of conflicted terror. He wanted to play with me, he thought it would be fun, but there was something holding him back.
As I got older, I learned it was family-taught racism.
“My mom said that your mom is a terrorist. I can’t play with you because she said you might be a terrorist, too,” he said.
Terrorist. That was a new word, I’d never heard of it before. How exciting! I’m learning something new!
I asked him what it meant, but he just shrugged, shook his head and left me to play by myself.
“That’s weird,” I remember thinking. “Why wouldn’t he want to play with me?”
I thought about the word “terrorist” for a moment. It didn’t sound good. I mean, it has “terror” in its name. Surely, then, my mom was just called something bad, and I was lumped in with that.
What did we do to upset people?
Nothing. We did absolutely nothing, nothing at all.
Every year, I’m asked where I was or if I even remember the 9/11 attacks. I was 2 years old, of course I don’t remember. I hardly have any memories of even being alive in my single digits. Yet, this experience as a four-year-old is seared into my brain for the rest of my life.
Nobody ever asked me how 9/11 affected me. Nobody ever cared to know.
Instead, every year we mourn a tragedy that divided people as much as it united them. I remember just a few weeks ago on Facebook someone posted something along the lines of, “I miss how America was the day after 9/11. American flags were everywhere, we would hug each other and we were all united. Nobody cared about who you were, because we were all Americans.”
As nice as it sounded, I could only roll my eyes. It was wrong. Completely and undeniably wrong.
Everybody except Middle Easterners were considered Americans on Sept. 12, 2001. Everybody who wasn’t Muslim was an American. Everybody who spoke Arabic or Aramaic or any other language found in the Middle East was not welcome in this post-tragedy America.
We were not wanted. We were not liked. We were not seen as Americans even though nearly every person in my family was born here.
Even now, 18 years later, my family and I still feel the repercussions from an act we did not commit.
People still scream and cuss at my Nana as they drive by while we quietly walk to Kroger.
My mother was denied her American citizenship numerous times because she was only in her birthplace for two months.
My 15-year-old and 16-year-old sisters are still called terrorists by their classmates.
My 12-year-old brother is still the target of bullying nearly every single day by people who hate our family because of the location on my mother’s birth certificate.
I am still stopped at every single “random selection” in airports and amusement parks. Notice that I haven’t once mentioned anyone outside my family name, these are just cases of hate against my family. This isn’t including the attacks and the terrors other families like mine have had to face every single day since 9/11.
In 2001 alone, FBI data showed that hate crimes skyrocketed from 28 to 481 incidents against Muslims alone. Other religions also fell victim to these crimes, but nowhere near the 1,618 percent increase.
This data does not include non-Muslim Middle Easterners or undocumented reports. These statistics show only documented cases for hate crimes against Muslims.
Let’s talk about death rates, too. During 9/11, an estimated 3,000 people died. Yes, it’s tragic, it’s horrific and nobody deserved to die that day.
However, where was this same outrage for the estimated half a million people killed in the war on terror in the Middle East? These military and civilian deaths resulted from the U.S. led coalition actions. These were deaths in active warzones alone.
How does that not make you sick to your stomach?
U.S. involvement affected my family not only through 9/11, but through our heritage as Chaldeans — Catholics located in Mesopotamia, now Iraq.
Our people are one of the oldest groups of people on the planet, but now there are only about half a million Chaldeans left in the world.
A majority of them now live in the U.S. — specifically Michigan — rather than Iraq. I remember listening to my Nana tell stories about fleeing to Greece at 17 with two children before moving to Detroit with them once they were sure they were safe two years later. I remember her telling me this is the first time this has ever happened in our culture’s history.
Terrorist groups, such as ISIS, have began sweeping Iraq with a genocide bearing a simple, yet earth-shattering message to Chaldeans: convert or die.
The ability for terrorist groups to take over comes from the U.S. led coalition invasion of Iraq, pushing the first domino over in capturing Saddam Hussein, leading to his trials and later his execution. This opened the door for tyranny and genocide to control the country.
Nobody talks about this every 9/11. Nobody cares.
Every year America throws the same exact pity party with the same exact footage and the same exact questions with the same exact results.
When people ask me if I remember anything about 9/11, and I tell them every single thing I’ve faced as a result of it. I tell them every word anyone has ever spat at my family. I tell them how we became one of the most hated groups in the entire world overnight.
People scoff. People tell me to have respect. People tell me I need to care.
I do care. I’ve had no choice but to care. For the past 18 years I’ve had to listen to the same hate-fueled patriotism from nearly every single person each September like clockwork. I was forced to grin, bear it and respect everybody that commented on how the United States just needs to go to the Middle East and “kill them all.”
I’m tired. I’m so absolutely tired. I don’t want to care anymore. I don’t want to respect.
Because not a single person bothers to care and respect my family when September rolls around.
Nobody ever asks if we’re “OK.” Nobody ever cares to know what happened to us after the attacks.
Nobody seems to remember Sept. 12, 2001, the day we became symbols of terror.