Desi Talk – that’s all you need to know 4 twentieth Anniversary Of 9/11 September 10, 2021 I Was 16 On 9/11. As A Muslim American, I Was Inspired To Serve - And Still Do To This Day I was a junior in high school that fateful Tuesday morning. After learning more about the attackers, I fearfully walked to my honors world history class. We had recently covered some of the atrocities that happened duringWorld War II, and my lively, impassioned teacher wondered aloud: Will Muslim Americans be forced into internment camps like Japanese Americans were? For me, 9/11 was a calling - of faith and duty, and it changed my life forever. My parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in the 1980s, and my six siblings and I grew up relatively poor in northern Virginia. Dad, a math teacher in Pakistan, woke up before sunrise every morning to drive a taxi in D.C., while Mom was our caregiver. Every night, Dad came home to a masala-filled house. The aroma of red pepper, turmeric, coriander, onion, tomato, garlic and garammasala would fill our senses and permeate our clothes and hair. Dad would tell us about his adventures that day - like how he drove a soldier to the Pentagon or a politician to Capitol Hill. Although we did not have much financially, my family was rich in other ways: culture, family ties, our ability to assimilate to life in America. When I was 16, Mom and Dad decided it was time for us to understand our roots and travel to their homeland. For the first time in my life, I saw the tremendous imbalance between the rich and poor. I watched shirtless, shoeless children crying, begging for food and money, and was baffled by the indifference shown to these kids. I struggled to grasp the gender disparities I witnessed in Pakistan. Girls my age worked as full-time nannies and housekeepers; could this have been my fate? I arrived in Pakistan with culture shock, and left with a lasting print on my heart. I genuinely appreciated what it meant to be an American, especially an American woman. The opportuni- ties I had in America are something I would never take for granted again - and this gratitude ignited my desire to serve the country that had given my family so much. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks happened a few months after the trip. I was heart- broken to see the pain and suffering of so many American families, outraged by those who had committed such hateful atrocities under the guise of my faith, and devastated at the deepening of Islamophobia in its wake. After someone launched a brick into a window of my uncle’s home, Dad and his friends stopped wearing traditional shalwar kameez to work. My sisters and I bought American flags to hang in their taxis, hoping to make them less of a target for those inciting hate. I felt so confused. More than anything, I felt a stronger sense of patriotism and a desire to show the world that in addition to my identity as a Muslim, a Pakistani, a woman and a first-generation minor- ity from an immigrant family - I was an American. Six years later, I swore to protect and defend my country, serving as an Air Force officer during the Afghanistan war. Early on, I realized that some of my peers had never met another Muslim before; all they knew of my faith is what they learned frommainstreammedia. “Sadia, do you speak Islamic?” It was the first time I realized I was an ambassador of my faith. The weight is an honor, but it is often difficult to carry. It was heavy when some of my instruc- tors casually referred to the holy month of Ramadan as “Rama-bomb,” and when people who came frommy parents’ home- land were referred to as “crazy Pakistanis” or “ragheads” by brothers and sisters in arms. During my deployment to Bagh- dad, the Fort Hood shooting took place in Texas. I walked alone into the dining facil- ity of my base, watching the news. I bore my M9 pistol and the invisible armor I’d learned to wear. The news blasted across my base was hosting a discussion: Should Muslims be allowed to serve in the U.S. military? It all stung so badly. Here I was, serving my country during Operation Iraqi Free- dom, while random pundits on the screen sat in the comfort of their news studio arguing about whether Americans like me should be able to serve. Later, I worked for an Islamophobe at a joint command in the Pacific. “You should stay away from him, Sadia,” peers warned. Leaders I served with sarcastically referred to him as “Mullah.” In Islam, a mullah is a Muslim trained in sacred law; this was not the case. I later learned about his pattern of reporting Muslim service members to undermine their careers and lives. I longed to move on from the feeling of having to wear invisible armor on duty to protect myself frommy own teammates; it was exhausting. I now realize that I am not alone. Many service members continue to serve even after facing discrimination based on race, gender or religious belief. We are all united by a common thread: a passion for serving something greater than ourselves, a strong love for country, and the resolve to pursue the American Dream. The entire world understands the uniqueness, beauty and spirit of this dream. No matter your background, race, religion or economic class, in America you have the opportunity to work hard and achieve whatever you set out to do in life. Like any dream worth fighting for, the American Dream is not without its obstacles. Its fate lies in the resolve of each and every American. Twenty years ago, I refused to accept the idea that terrorists would hijack my faith in the name of their hateful political agenda. Today, I refuse to validate those who try to dim the light of others because of their prejudiced beliefs. The American Dream represents ideals paramount to our democracy and is vital to our national security. In what other na- tion can you find a military composed of women and men who carry such a pletho- ra of experiences and come from so many distinct backgrounds? Diversity is critical to military readiness. It makes our na- tion unique, and in this diversity lies our strength. Extraordinary skills, languages, lessons and perspectives meld together, allow us to better defend the United States and its interests, and provide our military with a competitive edge to combat our adversaries. Twenty years after 9/11, we are all trying to make sense of the current situ- ation in Afghanistan. Fear, confusion, sadness and anxiety may manifest into anger. Some look for a scapegoat, and sadly, Islamophobia remains steadfast in our communities. As Americans, we know better. It is time for us to do bet- ter - our children are watching. Society is still reckoning with waves of civil unrest against systemic racism while confronting an alarming increase in ethnic national- ism, prejudicial to the ideals set forth by the Constitution. The oath of office I took supports the American Dream - and only when we work toward creating an equitable society where we seek to understand each other, support one another and hold people ac- countable can that dream truly become a possibility for all Americans. Fourteen years ago, I raised my right hand and gave this oath, and I continue to serve today because representation mat- ters - our national security depends on it. Sadia Ali Heil is a major in the Air Force Reserve. She earned her master’s in mili- tary operational art and science, was named a 2020 Tillman scholar and is pursuing a master’s in special education. -Special To TheWashington Post By Sadia Ali Heil Helping Kids With Questions About 9/11 T his year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. On that morning in 2001, two large airplanes flew into the twin towers of theWorld Trade Center in NewYork City. A third plane flew into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Va., just outside ofWashington, D.C. A fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed that day. The planes were hijacked by 19 members of a militant Islamist group called al-Qaida (pronounced al-KY-duh). They were angry about how the United States was treat- ing countries in the Middle East. Maybe you have learned about the attacks in school. Someone in your family may have experienced them in person. Perhaps you have questions about that day. Jennifer Lagasse has heard lots of such questions from school kids all over the United States. She is the assistant director of education programs at the National Septem- ber 11 Memorial Museum in NewYork, which was built where the twin towers used to stand. The purpose of the memorial, she says, is “to accu- rately tell and record the events of that day. But it’s also to honor and remember the victims ... as individuals that had lives and interests.” Lagasse says that when kids come to the memorial “the floodgates open, because they perceive they’re allowed to ask every single question and they’re super- curious.” The kinds of questions she hears depends on the age of the kids asking them. Younger kids want to know about firefighters and oth- er first responders, and also about the dogs that helped look for survivors. Kids in middle school “want to know why the attacks happened, why the South Tower fell first when it was hit second, and they’re trying to make sense of what happened,” she says. She sometimes has to take deep breaths to get through her answers. Mostly she tries to help kids un- derstand that “while we can’t control that terrible things happen in the world, we can control the way we respond to them.” Kids who visit are often on a school trip after they’ve learned about the attacks from their teachers. They don’t just get a chance to talk to Lagasse and her staff. They also can make paper roses and leave them as a tribute to the victims. Lagasse says this project was inspired by the museum’s birthday roses program. Museum staff leave a single white rose on the name of a victim on their birthday. “Every day there’s at least one victim” who is honored, Lagasse says. Another activity is making paper leaves. These get tied with ribbon to the railing around the museum’s Survivor Tree. This is a pear tree that was found alive in the wreckage of the towers. Any place that’s had its own natural or man-made disaster can request a seedling taken from the Survivor Tree. Lagasse says this is a sym- bol of healing and resilience. Every year around Sept. 11 many people start to leave their own tributes at the memorial: candy (“Probably that victim’s favorite,” Lagasse guesses), flags of many nations, letters, postcards and photographs. On the night itself the Tribute in Light sends two blue beams into the sky to remember the victims. LEARN MORE Here are books Jennifer Lagasse of the National Sep- tember 11 Memorial Museum recommends for under- standing more about 9/11. - “America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell” by Don Brown, 2011. (Grades 1 to 5) - “Immigrant, American, Survivor: A Little BoyWho Grew Up To Be All Three” byWilliam Jimeno and Charles Ricciardi (authors), Ricciardi (illustrator), 2021. (Grades 3 to 6) - “The Man in the Red Bandanna” by Honor Crowther Fagan (author) and John Crowther (illustrator), 2013. (Grades 2 to 3) - “National Geographic Readers: September 11” by Libby Romero, 2021. (Grades 2 to 4) - “Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story” by Nora Raleigh Baskin, 2017. (Grades 3 to 7) - Special To TheWashington Post By Lela Nargi