September 11th and Beyond–Reprinted from 9/9/2002

September 9, 2002

I am not a hero… All I can take credit for is attempting to live my life with a sense of truth, dignity and hope. All that I have done this past year is struggle to live, survive and produce some meaningful actions, works and words. I can’t compare my self to the world—its calamites, its celebrations, its losses. I am too small.

The fact that I am here on this earth and able to type these words under the above date is a blessing and a miracle. Earlier today I was raving in private about my sorry condition– my frustration, my lack of progress. I am not ashamed, but then I am.

Last year after the 9/11 attack in New York , I debriefed with a group of students that I was teaching and anchoring in a class at a local university. In an attempt to have them face the stark reality of their biases I spoke to them about differences and got their full attention while I placed a scarf that was on my neck on my head in an Islamic headscarf style commonly know as hijab. From that moment on, I changed the relationship of myself to that student group as well as to my department chair who was present and facilitating the session. The two graduate students whose class I was anchoring also identified themselves during this debriefing session as Muslim as well as another African American student. I knew that the graduate students that I was anchoring were most probably Muslim and Middle Eastern because of their names. They, however, never made mention of this to me even though my family name, Tauhid (Tawheed), is well known among Muslims as a name representing the concept of Islamic monotheism.

My academic year of teaching and anchoring last year was filled with challenges. Foremost the challenge of establishing myself as a credible, competent teacher with two graduate students who thought that they knew it all and didn’t need to be coached, combined with their air and attitude that angered the class. As well, I was challenge by a Chair who didn’t know what to make of this Muslima of African ancestry that she had hired to add a global component to the curriculum. By mid-year when I was teaching the course as the sole instructor, I noticed that my Chair often refused to respond to my e-mails or inquiries. I continued to teach and develop the course that I was hired to teach with all the professionalism and determination that I have been trained to demonstrate. At the end of the academic year I received and e-mail saying that the course had not been funded for the following year. I was not surprised.

I cannot claim that I was not asked to teach the course this academic year because I am a Muslim or woman of African decent who takes her seniority seriously. I have tended to make more observations and ask fewer questions lately. I do know, though, that I did receive a good rating as a teacher and that I did leave the assignment with the same sense of truth and dignity with which I was hired.

As I said, I am not a hero—I am just attempting to live my life with simplicity and as much security as I can muster in these insecure times.

As I review all that has been and is being said about the September 11th attacks, I am reminded of the 1998 attack on the American Embassy in Nairobi , Kenya . I was working in Nairobi at the time although during the time of the bombing I was home on summer leave here in the States. When I went back to Nairobi , I was somehow drawn as if to a pilgrimage to journey down to the US Embassy site to see and feel what had happened. I had to cry at the sight I saw. The damage was appalling. A student at the university where I was teaching as well as his father, a US Embassy employee, had been killed as well as many others. It was hard to run into anyone in Nairobi who had not been touched by the tragedy. I know it must be the same in New York , the East Coast, and this country in general. I wish I knew what to make of it all.

I have been feeling extremely remote here in California . I have been longing for the feel, the smell and the reality of the East Coast. Certainly not to walk past the long lost Twin Towers , a journey I’ve never made in the past. But, perhaps just to check into some reality or the pain of sanity. I’m tired of overtures and words, empty or full. I’m tired of debriefing sessions filled with everybody’s ideas of how it should be, how it is, how it was. I am tired of telling the truth (as I see it) and getting no reward, no gain and very little agreement. I am tired of being broke, pounding pavement and making third and fourth generation copies of my degrees and transcripts to no good end. I miss Nairobi –I miss the goodness of Africa .

A psychologist once told me that people tend to anniversarize major events, loves, deaths, tragedies etc. Like it or no, we are all involved in the ‘anniversary’ of the September 11th events of last year. How we look at these events is centered around many things: who we are, where we are, our inherent world view, and many other significant factors. I am thankful that although there is war around me, I am fighting without major casualties. Although there is an abiding sense of terror, I am still hopeful.

I repeat: I am not a hero. I have not dug out any debris, but my own. But I have been blessed this year not to have to attend one funeral. My children are safe, if challenged– their children are safe. My family in all their various locations and in all of our varying degrees of closeness or lack thereof is intact. I have hope of new friendships as I bury the old. One day I may fall in love again, one day I may feel the old sense of comfort in a new place. I am safe, I am housed, I am here.

As I said, I am not a hero. All I can take credit for is attempting to live my life with a sense of truth, dignity and hope.

© Linda Tauhid for Linda Tauhid’s Journal, September 10, 2002