As a historian, I am always interested in the ways in which people frame events. Frames used are socially constructed and involve memory and constructed narratives about History. The past is about processes, not events, in actuality, but people have intense desires to group things conceptually. 9/11 is a process, not an event, per se. While such clusters (or neural networks) of peoples, ideas, events, and places are necessary for understandings, they have unavoidable problems.
In the First Year Seminars I am teaching, students are reading The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas as part of the common reader program. The book revolves around the attempted murder and one actual murder of individuals racialized as Arab by Mark Stroman. In the FYS classes this week we focused on developing questions and the importance of good, rigorous, yet fair questions. The students did a wonderful job of developing questions. One class came up with the question: What are the boundaries of 9/11? And that generated additional questions and conversations (as well as this blog!).
All too often, however, 9/11 is limited to September 11, 2001, and the immediate days thereafter. Unfounded discrimination against people racialized as Middle Eastern is not included, not remembered, and typically does not have a place in “Never Forget” rhetoric.
But it shouldn’t be. 9/11 in reality is also the events leading to September 11, 2001, and the resulting new laws, new hopes and fears or world views held by many United Statesians, and very importantly, new forms of discrimination. These include the hate crimes recounted in The True American and even discrimination this week against Ahmed Mohamed for using his talents to make a home-made clock.
On another level, if we look at 9/11 through the extremely long trajectory of racialized discrimination in the United States, the 9/11 grouping raises new questions. Recognizing such trajectories and patterns is important and connects with history repeating itself. But, saying 9/11 started in the 1670s would not only be “ridiculous” per se, it would also lose any useful meanings. On the other hand, in a thousand years (assuming we haven’t fully destroyed the Earth), people will look back and based on their hopes and fears develop new labels and new groupings and might well see as many similarities between the 1670s and early 2000s as we see between the 1100s and 1300s.
The film My Name is Khan is one of the best films I have ever seen. A Bollywood film, this film provides excellent fictional representations of how 9/11 resulted in “Middle Easterners” being even more lumped together as a homogenous, “evil” group. In addition, the characters are more sincere, real, and nice than in Hollywood film.
You’ll never forget one line: “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.”