I was ten years old on 9/11. Counting up until last year it was the halfway point of my life. I remember that, being ten, and denying myself the luxury of tears. I didn’t have to try hard not to cry: I simply couldn’t. It would have been, I felt, ridiculous for me to cry. After all, I was seen as responsible. People would be confused, uncertain of my intentions or sincerity. It would only have provoked rage.
To grieve, openly, publicly, and to in turn be comforted, was a privilege granted only to True Americans™.
And so, aware of who I was and immeasurably humbled by the immensity of others’ grief (whom I believed were much more deserving and worthy of shedding tears), I was silent. I endured hearing the most hateful things about Muslims, unable to protest, and simultaneously unable to grieve. The grief, unexpressed, weighed on my jaw, blurred my tearless vision as I waited wide-eyed, and rested heavily in my mouth.
A couple of years following the atrocity, people were still referencing the event to justify Islamophobia. The blame comes only out of their grief, naturally, I told myself. I did not believe it was appropriate etiquette for me, in the midst of “someone else’s” tragedy, to burst into defensive arguments, considering that innocent civilians had just been murdered in name of my religion and the sensitives that now surrounded Islam. If I were a true Muslim this would have come effortlessly, a gentle slide, as easy as dissolving mist, a merciful drop of rain from the heavens, radiating from the heart, like the first time. But now it was hard. Apparently I am not that true enough of a Muslim, for this virtue to come so easily, an admission that makes me want to cry.
It was not Islam that kept me from defensive arguments, but feminism, which places the reality of violence (eg colonialism) before the defensive arguments of those who comply with the interpreted ideology committing it (eg The Catholic Church). And when, in another decade, Breivik shot and killed children in Norway, I thought now, it is appropriate of me to grieve.
And then a comment telling me I was making too much of it, and another, and another. Unbearable explanations about how this was a “lone wolf”(how many “lone wolfs” do you need for there to be a pack?) and how he couldn’t possibly have been a “true Christian” (who is blaming all of Christianity?) and equally grating defensive lines about how he’s fringe and not really mainstream, extraneous clarifications about how the right wing there is different from here (as though I weren’t aware), and finally a reference to 9/11. Imbued with the conception that I am not an American, but an Other, and had it coming.
At the last one, shock dried my brimming tears instantly. They evaporated, as though they’d never existed. The grief recoiled, something closed.
It’s very telling, who is or isn’t allowed to publicly grieve at the expense of the comfort of others. May I have a human moment please, without these bombardments… I would ask, but I don’t know what I’d cry over anymore. Everything is jumbled up now, from waiting for so long.