The reason for my silence on 9/11 is that I am not only Muslim. I am also American. I am also white. I am male and heterosexual. However, I am not asked, as an American, to reflect on the yearly anniversary of our atomic bombs falling upon Japan, or our countless military interventions throughout the world. There is no date on the calendar for me, as a white person, to demonstrate that I have properly reflected on slavery and the generations of inequality and naked white sadism between the slave era and our own unjust present; we could potentially have such a day, but often turn it into shallow self-congratulation. As a white person, I am not asked to consider the wanton murders of young black men by white cops or white civilians, or the white terrorism of shootings in gurudwaras, as directly relevant to my identity. Nor do I have a designated anniversary for reflection, as a straight man, on the horrifying statistics of rape or the ways in which heterosexism makes this country unsafe for so many.
As a Muslim, however, people do expect me to show evidence of my soul-searching over a single event, and I am regularly instructed by popular media to imagine 9/11 as a cancer within my own self. Journalists ask me about Islam’s “crisis” as though it’s a private demon with whom I must personally wrestle every day; meanwhile, my whiteness remains untouched and unchallenged by the decade of hate crimes that have followed 9/11. Journalists don’t often ask whether “white tradition” can be reconciled to modern ideals of equality and pluralism, or whether the “straight male community” is capable of living peacefully in America. When it comes to my participation in America, my whiteness and maleness are far more likely than my Islam to wound others, and thus perhaps more urgently in need of “reform” or “enlightenment” or whatever you say that Islam needs. Again, this is only if numbers matter.