I don’t think there’s one person alive whose world hasn’t been changed by the events of September 11, 2001. Even those who don’t remember it live in a much different world than that which existed before 9/11.
My grandson does not remember 9/11. He was not quite two when the towers came down. He doesn’t know a world before the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and the TSA. But neither does he know an America that completely ignored Islam. When I was his age, I knew nothing about Islam. I didn’t know any Muslims, I didn’t see them on TV, I never saw them on the street, I didn’t learn about them in school. And yet almost exactly eight years after 9/11, I became one myself.
I was in Germany with my fiancé on 9/11. Like the rest of the world, I was in shock. No one, least of all Americans, thought that something like this would ever happen on American soil. Over the next few weeks, I was amazed at the outpouring of caring and even grief from all over the world. Germans held candlelight vigils in city squares. The German news reported on 9/11 exhaustively. Whenever someone learned that I was American, they held my hands and told me how terribly sorry they were for what had happened to us.
My fiancé and I returned to the States almost a month after 9/11 and married on 11/11. So this year is our tenth anniversary as well. Sometimes I’m surprised that he is so glad to be in America, because to me it has changed almost beyond recognition. It is much more paranoid, conservative and intolerant than it used to be. In the months after 9/11, no one dared to criticize the President or question any of his policies. Anyone who didn’t support the war in Iraq was viewed as a traitor. The whole country became narrow-minded in its pursuit of enemies, which it identified exclusively as Muslims.
It never occurred to me, in the days after 9/11, to blame Islam for the actions of a few politically reactionaries who happened to identify as Muslims. After all, I never blamed the actions of the Klu Klux Clan or Timothy McVeigh on Christianity. Rather than blaming all Muslims, I felt it was my duty as a human being to learn as much as possible about Islam before passing judgment on it and its followers.
What began as an intellectual interest took years to formulate into a decision to convert. Even though I had come to respect Islam, I resisted the idea of conversion for a long time. It wasn’t until I actually met some Muslims that the pieces fell into place.
My conversion may seem counter-intuitive in a country where Muslims are viewed with suspicion. But even though there is more intolerance toward Islam than there used to be, there is also more acceptance. Thousands of Americans have converted to Islam since 9/11. It’s hard not to draw a correlation between 9/11 and the outpouring of interest in Islam. Although the events of that day were horrible, I know that I owe my new-found peace with God to the fact that they happened.