Growing up Muslim after 9/11

I am an Ahmadi Muslim American living in Bel Air and am currently a high school senior. I was born in America, but my parents are from Pakistan. I was 8 years old at the time of the 9/11 attacks, sitting in my 3rd grade class.

I remember watching footage of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, seeing the people falling, seeing the ruins, seeing all the debris and all the paper covering Manhattan's streets, watching TV and seeing people running from the burning towers, screaming, crying and terrified, hearing about people trapped in the wreckage, seeing all the fire fighters and rescue workers covered in dirt and ash as they tried to save everyone.

I was born and raised as an American. I have values and traditions from my Pakistani background, but I identify for the most part like any other typical an American. When 9/11 happened, I did not really know fully understand its significance at first, being 8 years old. But as time passed, I learned about Osama bin Laden and the terrorists, where they were from and the ideas they were promoting. Simply knowing that the people who attacked my country are from the same area of the world that my ancestors are from, that they claim to share the same religion as me, increased my anger and horror over this terrible crime.

America, as an Ahmadi Muslim and Pakistani-American, do you think I watched the 9/11 attacks with glee, triumph and happiness? Do you think that my parents and religious community told me this was justified? No, America. I watched with the same feelings of fear, sorrow and confusion as every other true American. I felt the same as most other 8-year-olds at that time, with one exception. Some of these kids had an additional feeling, most likely learned at home. A lot of the other kids had a feeling of hate. I admit, being only 8 years old, I hated the terrorists also. But the others hated someone else too — people like the terrorists, people like me.

From grade school on, I have personally encountered racism and extremism. I have endured snide comments, people calling me "terrorist," and people generally hating me for no reason but my race and religion. I have noticed that these comments mostly come from people who do not know me very well. People who have gotten to know me do not make such remarks as often, they know that I am not violent and not a hateful person. This leads me to believe that such treatment is caused by people's ignorance about Islam.

The perception many Americans share today is that "terrorism" and "Islam" are synonymous. This is not true, because those terrorists are not true Muslims, and do not represent Islam, any more than the KKK represented Christianity. Unfortunately, people's ignorance has led many to shape a negative attitude about Islam.

Nine years later, after all the ways people have treated me, I wonder, are the terrorists winning? What was the point of the 9/11 attacks? We have been told they hate us, hate our way of life, and wish to cripple and destroy us and our values. Then we say, they cannot, and never will threaten our freedom and liberty.

But is this really true? They have turned many of the people of this country against each other. Some of the same people who say that their job is to defend the freedoms of the people of the United States of America are those who say that a select group of people are not worthy of being free to practice their religion of choice, to worship in a place where they wish to do so, and they deserve to be insulted, and that their God needs to be insulted through the burning of His book.

I have never burned a Bible or an American flag. Why should I? I respect and love them. I am a Muslim, and I respect the Bible, I respect and love the people who follow this book, I love this country, and I love the people who live here. The Constitution of the United States guarantees the freedom of all of its citizens to practice the religion of their choosing. So why are some Americans threatening these freedoms? Why are these people essentially helping the terrorists by dividing a country and spreading disorder? Why are the terrorist's goals being achieved 9 years later? Are the terrorists winning?

Basir Jamil is a senior at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air. His e-mail is