My Nine Years as a Middle-Eastern American


Khakpourimg-popup Little did we know that it would take almost a full decade for the proverbial 9/11 fallout to fall out, for anti-Muslim xenophobia to emerge, fully formed and fever-pitched, ostensibly over plans to build an interfaith cultural center near ground zero. Even in New York, stronghold of progressive ethics and cultural diversity, my former home of 12 years, August 2010 became the evil twin of that still-innocent August 2001. In addition to the mosque, of course, there was the Florida pastor who wanted to burn Korans on the Sept. 11 anniversary, and who has yes-no-maybe-so reconsidered, after a hearty load of negative press and a dab of executive-branch headshaking. And, hey, what do you get when you put a drunk white college student, who had actually been to Afghanistan, into the cab of a Bangladeshi Muslim? The wrong answer and a stabbing, allegedly.

It’s one test I would have passed. For the record: I am not Muslim. My immediate family ultimately kept us as agnostic as possible; religion went only as far as my mother praying to the American concept of a guardian angel and my dad “studying” Zoroastrianism. But most of the extended Khakpours are Muslim and, culturally, it’s a part of me insofar as I am a Middle Easterner. I am also a New Yorker, a deal that was sealed forever nine years ago. I had just moved from Brooklyn to downtown Manhattan to shack up with a boyfriend. The studio was 25 floors up, with a nearly all-glass wall that framed a perfect view of the World Trade Center. Now, when I look back on ages 23 to 32, every aspect of my life is shadowed by what I saw through the glass that blue-and-gold Tuesday morning: two towers, each gashed and stunningly hazed in the glitter of exploding windows, falling, one after the other, over and over again. But what was once simple apprehension and mortification and trepidation has become increasingly entangled with feelings of exhaustion and marginalization and even indignation.

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