Saturday, May 07, 2011

End of "The Bin Laden Decade"

In the aftermath of last Sunday's events, some in the media quickly took to referring to the span of time stretching between 9/11 and now as "The Bin Laden Decade." In addition to sounding like the rejected title for a lost Robert Ludlum novel, I think this appellation elevates the man more than he deserves. Nonetheless, there is the intrinsic reality that Bin Laden's actions on that day marked a very broad, very sudden paradigm shift for the American public that involved resetting our compasses on a wide range of issues both perfunctory (remember when you could walk through airport security without taking your shoes off?) and profound (Iraq. 'nuff said).

For American-Muslims in particular, there was also a more specific kind of paradigm shift at work requiring a gut-check of our identities, and just what that means. I still remember flying to the Bay Area from Chicago in December of '01 and having the lady at the ticket counter take a very long look at my driver's license when I asked if it was a going to be a full flight (I wanted to take a nap, whaddya want?). This was probably my first realization that, "Oh yeah, I look different." While I consider encounters like that to be mostly humorous, there was still that need to reconcile sometimes-disparate shards of self-perception to ourselves, and prove to others that they could be reconciled. As I wrote in my Masters thesis a few years back:
Before 9/11, I hadn’t given much thought to the Muslim part of my identity, and I’d certainly never felt the need to categorize myself by it. I was just Zaki-who-happens-to-be-Muslim-but-whatever. Then the attacks happened, and the entire tone and tenor of our national discourse changed. The next thing I knew, before I could enter an opinion on the political situation in the world, I had to, in essence, “out” myself, beginning every conversation with, “I’m a Muslim, and here’s what I think about…” I then had to make sure I condemned, on behalf of all Muslims everywhere, acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam.
While the fuse of anti-Muslim sentiment is something that Bin Laden may have helped light, it's since been fueled and stoked by those with vested interests into a blaze that will long outlast him. As my many posts on various manifestations of anti-Muslim rhetoric and outright Islamophobia over the past year-and-change have shown, that rhetorical divide has yet to be fully bridged, and to paraphrase Ted Kennedy, "the work continues." To that end, I highly recommend checking out Wajahat Ali's post reflecting on his own experiences as a "Post Osama Muslim," which in turn I think very neatly reflects the experiences of a great many people during the last decade.


Iesa said...

I REALLY liked the article, there is one issue I have and that is: the phrase 'Muslim Americans' adds to problem here are a few example from the article: "Muslim Americans also share blame due to hermitically sealing themselves in an isolated, cultural cocoon and not proactively engaging civic society in wider numbers." & "Ten years later, at least many of us now understand that the only way forward is by embarking on this journey together. We have also earned and learned the valuable lesson that if we are to truly change ourselves, then the only way to escape our shadow is to finally confront it." --- show clearly why the construction "Muslim American" is adding to this problem: use American Muslim instead!

Zaki said...

As a general rule, I use American Muslim, as I did in this piece.