The Right to Grieve

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.

5 thoughts on “The Right to Grieve

  1. *hugs*

    Fuck Islamophobia. Seriously. You’d think the people who are capable of mastering the concepts “abortion clinic bombers don’t speak for all Christians” and “Breivik does not speak for all right-wingers” would have grasped the concept “the 9/11 terrorists don’t speak for all Muslims.” But apparently not. >:(

    It’s just fucking Islamophobic crap to create a world in which a ten-year-old thinks she can’t grieve a tragedy– and it actually right. :/

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  2. Coolred38

    The opposite was true for me. I was in the middle east during 9/11…in the home of some long time arab friends when the second plane hit the towers on tv. Once we realized what was going on, that family started cheering and clapping saying America deserved it etc. Then for the next few months I sat among arab women (women gatherings in homes etc) and listened as they discussed how 3000 deaths was gods punishment for being immoral and supporting israel etc and apparently worse was coming blah blah blah.

    I aslo witnessed many many Arabs cry from shock and grief and demand to understand why something like this could happen. And I also heard many many Americans support Arabs/Muslims and defend them against the hateful backlash.

    9/11 was a heinous act (among countless heinous acts throughout history) and it brought out the very worst…and the very best in people from across the globe.

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  3. Those are really difficult situations to be in and it’s so hurtful when people Otherize you like that. I’ve been there many times before too and it is not easy. When we grieve or speak about the atrocities committed by white non-Muslims, the finger is always pointed at us and we’re expected to answer for 9/11, as if Muslims are collectively responsible for it. It is easy for people to pin this on us because most of the time, it comes from people who have never been racially profiled, stigmatized, discriminated against, or racialized as an “Other” by mainstream society.

    It’s upsetting because racialization basically comes down to who does and who doesn’t qualify as a human being. The comments you received in that conversation merely reinforce how Muslims are seen as a “group,” not as individuals. We have every right to grieve, to be respected for who we are, and no one has the right to dehumanize us and take those God-given rights away.

    I hope you’re feeling better, insha’Allah.

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