Opinion: How 9/11 changed the meaning of my name



Rabab Al-Sharif

Rabab Al-Sharif

Rabab Al-Sharif is a senior news major and Opinion page editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

I was in the fifth grade on Sept. 11, 2001. I was 10 years old, and I had hardly any idea of what terrorism really meant. After the first plane hit the World Trade Center, another teacher ran frantically into my class and told my teacher. She turned on the TV in class, and we saw the second plane hit. At that moment, it was clear that this was no accident, but I didn’t realize it would affect me so personally.

Terrorist. A word I soon became familiar with.

?The next day in school a classmate walked right up to me and said, “This is all your fault.” Just because my name is Rabab Al-Sharif, just because I am a Muslim, just because my father moved to America in hopes of a better life, I was, for the first time, branded a terrorist.

?I cried when I got home. I was sad for all of the people who had died; I was sad for their families, and I was sad for myself. I didn’t understand why I had become the bad guy.

?My mother is American. My father is Palestinian. Though I may have a hint of something exotic in my features, for the most part I look like any other American. The only thing that lets those who don’t know me realize my culture is my name.?

At some point, I realized that only a small group of people, not everyone, thought I was evil because of my cultural beliefs, and I eventually got used to people joking about my Arab background. I even started making fun of myself.

Many people have joked about terrorism with me, and some have even called me a terrorist maliciously. But I know it takes more than a name to make a person a terrorist. After 10 years, I have learned to ignore those who are ignorant enough to think that I, personally, am a terrorist.

What I do take offense to is that somehow, many people in our culture have associated terrorism with Arabs and Muslims exclusively. For some reason, we have gotten into a habit of calling it terrorism when acted out by Muslims and something completely different when acted out by anyone else. Whenever an act of terrorism occurs, we automatically think, “Oh it must have been an Arab.”

?Terrorist is not a synonym for Arab. Some terrorists are Arabic, but not all Arabs are terrorists. I hated my name when I was younger. I was afraid of what people would assume about me because of it. I was afraid of being different. I didn’t want people to blame me for something that saddened me just as much as any other American. I’m not a terrorist. I don’t condone terrorism, so don’t call me one or think that I do.

?But I often wonder how my life would have been different had the events of 9/11 had never happened. Would America have such a negative view of Arabs? Would Arabs still be associated with terrorism so readily? Would it even matter that my name is Rabab Al-Sharif?