It took a moment for the news to sink in, to fully grasp what had happened on that fateful Tuesday morning. But once I did, I felt like I was drowning.
How could I not? The magnitude of the event was as overwhelming as a massive ocean wave, and after the initial blow, I knew immediately that we—Muslim Americans—now had to prepare to be swept away by it. We, like the rest of the United States, had been caught completely off guard, and so many people across the country suddenly seemed afraid for the future. But we Muslim Americans knew enough to assume the worst. Our fears were not abstract.
Almost instantly, mosques were vandalized. Muslim parents agonized over their children’s safety at school. Violent assaults increased not only in number but also in ferocity. As all of this was occurring, we were working hard to look out for one another, while also trying not to lose sight of what this catastrophe meant for the nation as a whole.
One thing that helped was the genuine concern we heard from our non-Muslim friends, neighbors, and even strangers. “I am the daughter of a Japanese-American who was interned during W.W.II,” read one e-mail I received from an electronic mailing list I’m on. “I have heard that Muslims are fearful to leave their homes etc., and with good reason. Is there a way that I can help? I live in Brooklyn. I have a car. I would be happy to accompany Muslim women to stores and public places, run errands, help with a media campaign. I don’t know what to do, but I am willing to help.”
Life became instantly more difficult for us after that Tuesday, but this offer of help just two days later—and a thousand more like it—were each a small burst of fresh air, helping us to get some oxygen into our lungs so that we wouldn’t drown.
The e-mail from this woman landed in my inbox on Thursday, September 13, 2001.
Sixteen years ago, I had a sudden tight sensation in my chest while absorbing all the horrific news of the day. Now the feeling is back. At no other point since the months following the September 11 attacks have I felt as worried about my life as a Muslim in this country as I have since the rise of Donald Trump, from the beginnings of his campaign for president in 2015 all the way through his first year in office. That’s a long stretch to feel like it’s hard to breathe, but since Trump is known to have shifted money from his charitable foundation into his own pockets, why wouldn’t he steal my oxygen, too?