Photo of ‘World Trade Centre’ by Anuradha Henakaarachchi at the Colombo Art Biennale 2009, taken by the author.

I was sitting in my garden, gazing at the stars listening to my Walkman, which was the only thing to do back then as you ticked off the minutes until the regulated power cuts that cursed Sri Lanka at the time wore away, every night, when I heard the absurd news. Planes hitting the twin towers and then causing them to fall down? And they say a Muslim did it, some guy in a turban and thobe with a long beard sitting in a cave in Afghanistan. I could barely place Afghanistan on a map.

Weeks became months and as more news of Bin Laden flooded the world I sunk further into my mid-teen bubble of O/Levels and school; music and movies and street cricket. This was a bubble I had always been in, but unbeknownst to me its surface had already been breached.

The breach became a gaping hole one day after an Interact Club meeting, I was walking ahead and behind me a girl, in a borrowed Fox News accent, jokingly referred to the boys she was with as ‘Funnamentahlist Muzlehms’. I had heard the term on the TV back then, but it had never struck me with so much force as it did then, overhearing it in a random conversation on a street in Maradana.

Because here was a new category of Muslim, given birth to in America and now brought to the streets of Sri Lanka. Revealed to me in its rawest form, with the original accent still coloring it; the newborn Fundamentalist Muslim. Though no one back then, and no one still, has succeeded in successfully defining what his moniker means, his invasion into my bubble began to force me to confront certain… realities.

He refused to acknowledge my own Muslimness for one. My Muslimness was a rather dormant part of my identity then, more or less a cultural marker that differentiated me from non-Muslim friends. It involved certain rituals like going to the mosque on Friday and hurriedly going through the motions of daily prayers when the inclination struck me. But this new ‘Fundamentalist Muslim’ was having none of that.

As the years passed, his voice became louder and louder. He was staring down my drab, boring Muslimness; ignoring him wouldn’t make him go away. He wanted my Muslimness to man up. “There are lines being drawn up”, he seemed to say. “Which side will you choose?” I was either with him or against him. Familiar words, back then, to those that eventually supported Bush’s War on Terror.

But I am no terrorist, I don’t believe the killing of innocent civilians is a part of Islam. So if you’re looking for an apology from me on the anniversary of 9/11, you can stop looking now. I don’t relate to the people who did the crime just because we ostensibly share the same religion. Just as much as people who believe in ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ don’t relate to the war crimes in their name that have shed the blood of hundreds of thousands before 9/11 and since.

On the other hand, there were the voices forcing me to become a ‘moderate Muslim’. A Muslim that unconditionally gives himself up to materialism, maybe has a drink on occasion, a Muslim that does not question extant global power structures, a Muslim that does not stand up for justice, compassion and equality; in short, a Muslim that is Muslim only In name.

But I am not a so-called ‘moderate Muslim’ either. I resent being on someone’s alien scale of what it means to be Muslim. Categorized as being somewhere in between a Muslim that drinks and smokes and a Muslim that kills innocent civilians. I reject the label ‘moderate Muslim’ just as much as I reject the label ‘Fundamentalist Muslim’ not only because they’re both meaningless essentializations, but because they place my faith within a worldview that presupposes its evidential guilt.

My identity as a Muslim, struggling with my refusal to be boxed into labels invented by Islamophobes and neo-khawarij alike, has evolved over the years in a continuing process. After more than a decade of soul searching, my Muslimness now definitely dominates my worldview. But 13 years on I still haven’t worked out what ‘kind’ of Muslim I am or must seek to be; I strongly suspect that I need not be any kind of Muslim other than simply a Muslim, inasmuch as it only means a slave that submits to God’s will and leads a life seeking only His pleasure.

9/11 wasn’t the trigger for a religious awakening. But it was one more event in my life, perhaps the first, which woke me up to realities that I was previously comfortable ignoring. It not only helped introduce the world to me it forced me to confront things like heritage and history, beliefs and ideology. It was so big that it refused to be ignored.

And I’ve learned a thing or two since then. I have learned that to look at the world in terms of generalizations such as ‘America’ and ‘Islam’ is to buy into the propaganda that perpetuates the violence of our times. The obscurantism via generalizations that the media and extremist propaganda alike feeds us conceals the real workings at play; the corrupt politics; the propped up oppressive regimes; the warmongering; the ruthless corporations; the proxy wars; and most importantly, the long arm of history.

Looking along the accusative finger pointing after 9/11, I began to also see the numerous fingers pointing back. Now I realize that this is a discourse between extremists on either side, and we’re all stuck in the middle. The mostly deluded, self-absorbed majority, the silent victims.

  • Ahmed Islam

    infact what made to
    think Muslims did this in the first place?

    do the following make sense?

    the latest evidence
    say these findings which are more sophisticated

    nano-thermite” explosives are not available in afghan caves…/13189

    many who was named as hijackers are still alive…/septe…/hijackers-alive.htm

    We all know there were no WMD in Iraq and if binladen was shot dead in
    a hosue why US need to bomb whole of afhanistan in the first palce? Is the oil
    and mineral is the motives.

    we smell Zionist involvement from the very first day

  • Jayalath

    We as public have free access to foresee how the things could have happened around us . for instant , 9/12 attack and Diana’s mysterious accidents are freaky cases , which shook the whole world and which is still remaining undoubtedly mysterious for its actual involvement and the purport of them ..but I put my view as this . When the west and USA armed IS extremist monsters to fight against Assad and Gaddafi , I think the west never expected that IS monsters to turn on west and decapitate the westerners . , but it is happening today . This is a good evidence to imagine as public whether same thing could have had happened 13 years ago .i don’t say that extremists were particularly trained by USA to attack own twin towers , but those monsters possibly could have trained or associated by USA for different purpose and finally they turned on the USA .
    Therefore, We cannot rule out the possibilities . We know for a fact that westerners some time has held the wrong side of the stick in the past . which is primarily witness what is happening in the Middle East last few years .what ever been stepped up or has been aimed by west over that part of the world , the effect is looming counter productive .i do not have to repeat how the USA regulate their secret service to meddle other countries in the interest of benefiting out it . Because it is not a secret any more to the rest of world .
    AND also it is inconceivable to imagine to a normal person that how professionally the west involve with other countries affairs . So , the intention of regulating and intervening to other countries affairs by USA and west is increasing by big number daily basis and as a result of that some groups of those countries become more extremists toward west .which is inevitable . This is what we see today .
    If we take this context at large ,The best examples can be found from Libya , Iraq ., and Syria. How many people killed so far ? And these three countries are entirely destroyed by west today , who bears the accountability.
    In the sense of real life , that many crimes are committed by west never exposed to its high necessity ,because the most multi medias are in the hand of west . Therefore what we want to hear is only deliver from the western medias , so some stupid people living among us are unanimously believe what they have been told .
    Nevertheless ,there are very little barely done to others by west in the post colonial era . I would mind to ask western Human righters , Who has bothered to speak about last five hundred years of crimes ,genocides and ethnic cleansing occurred under the colonial rules ? Do many of us know about them ? But we all know what happened to twin towers . For my perspective , I believe that west has killed enough people for two world within last 500 years . But nobody speak about them . Spain alone has murdered unaccountable humans , who knows those ? . And what has done by world medias to expose those ? It is unbearable shame of all time human history .
    Finally I must say this bit as well .we really do not know who is responsible for twin tower terrorist attack , but we condemn it at large scale .what ever the reason or who ever the people that involve in extremism in the name of religion should be punish and wipe out from the society because they can be extremely harmful to the ROOT OF RATIONAL THINKING of HUMANS .and also I hate the religious extremists because our chances of congregating against the real enemies after fell apart of Soviet Union has been HIJACKED by BUNCH OF EXTREMIST IDIOTS

  • James Chance

    This is a very nice piece. Thank you. I, too, fear we are all caught between “fundamentalists” on all sides – there’s always more than two sides! – but knowing there are others trying to escape their deadly straight-jackets makes it a bit more bearable!