Muslim millennials 12 years after 9/11

On any given day, a walk through the Santa Monica College campus reveals a mix of faces, colors and nationalities. Like any major college campus in the United States, SMC features a generation of students who have come of age under the shadow of Sept. 11, 2001 and its aftermath. Atheer Althobaiti, dressed in a traditional Muslim hijab, sat on the third floor of the SMC library after her first class of the day, and spoke about 9/11 and being a Muslim student in the U.S.

“I remember when this happened," said Althobaiti. "My parents talked about it."

Only 20 years old and too young to remember the full, worldwide impact of the event, Althobaiti nevertheless has specific views about the image of Muslims flashed on television and movie screens since the attack, stereotyping an entire community as fanatics.

“The media shows a lot of these things, but that is not Islam; Islam does not promote this kind of violence,” said Althobaiti, who, herself, has never experienced discrimination due to her faith or ethnicity at SMC.

“The students are very nice," she said. "Many Saudis receive scholarships from America.”

The events of the last 12 years have forever marked our national discourse with phrases such as “Islam," “Islamic fundamentalism," “the war on terror,” and “East versus West.”

Since theSept. 11attacks, American pop culture has been peppered with commentators, comedians and writers who have become obsessed with the idea of "East versus West."

Prominent television hosts like Bill Maher have made it routine to slam Muslims as inferior or backwards. In November of last year, during a YouTube broadcast, Maher said that, "our culture isn't just different than one that makes death threats to cartoonists, it's better."

Since 9/11, there has been a rise in commentators and authors such as Pamela Geller and Brigitte Gabriel who make a living off of books and radio shows warning Americans about the so-called danger of Islamic fundamentalism invading U.S. shores.

“I think Muslims as a whole are no more distinctive than individuals who call themselves Catholic," said Dianne Bermann, a political science professor at SMC.

"But unfortunately, what has become dominant when we discuss Muslims are a fringe branch that is radical and fundamental," she said. "And many times peoples get tarred with the same brush."

Bermann said that she does not think Muslims should be singled out as a group from other religious groups.

"But they often are because of very small, radical elements, and as a result an entire group gets a stigma," she said.

A stroll through SMC reveals that the spirit of letting go of the past and simply living cuts across ethnic lines. SMC students Ashley Mendoza and Elizabeth Perez ponder 9/11 and their Muslim neighbors.

“I don’t really remember it," Perez said. "I never really had a connection to it."

“I’m not the type to stereotype people," said Mendoza. "Going to SMC, you learn about different cultures and you’re surrounded by diversity.”

Discrimination did not enter the minds of these students.

“I think it’s more, you hear about it," said Perez. "More like our parents or others are the ones who criticize, but you grow past it."

“You learn to appreciate other people and their beliefs,” Mendoza added. “I’m actually very interested because I’m a linguistics major who is studying other cultures.”

Saif Shreim, an SMC student from the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan but raised in Dubai, said he has never experienced any discomfort from his peers.

"No one has been racist towards me," said Shreim. "They don’t see me as a threat because I’m Middle Eastern. Some think I’m from India.”

Shreim said he supports the ongoing Arab Spring uprisings.

“I’m really with it," he said. "Dictatorships are not a good way of ruling people. Democracy is way better."

The general atmosphere on campus is that the stereotypes that have infected much national discourse when it comes to the Muslim community has not generally been prominent on the SMC campus, but instead, students seem to be working as a diverse collective dismissing the past and marching toward the future.

Alci RengifoComment