My grandfather taught me that if you must judge people, then judge them individually, not as stereotypes of an ethnicity, culture or religion. Everyone is an individual, and represents just himself or herself only. Whether you are American, Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern — you are an individual.
Each life lost on 9/11 was an individual, too. Each had their own story, family, friends and community. Each loss rippled through the world and continues to ripple through time. The 2,977 victims of the 9/11 attacks were each the loss of a face, a name, a story, a beloved family member and a unique individual. America’s loss is our loss, too.
Now as we remember these losses on this solemn day, my hope is that my grandfather’s philosophy will be adopted by Americans, Arabs, Muslims and Middle Easterners alike, as well as citizens around the world. This philosophy should be adopted by American and Arab leaders and media.
Please do not judge Arabs and Muslims based on a warped ideology adopted by only a few. Most of us never would have agreed with this ideology, which we did not even know about until after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, please stay curious about people who are Muslim, Arab, or originally from the Middle East, as we stay curious about Americans.
We, too, want the full release of classified 9/11 documents just as much as you do. We want to know exactly what happened, just like you do. If we hesitate to acknowledge problems or refuse to accept facts about the conditions that create these problems, then we cannot strive to solve them. Knowledge and skilled negotiation are the first of many steps to find solutions to help us all grow and get past our problems, whether American, Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern. Peaceful, prosperous lives and a healthy planet are the goals. We can only find this through science and diplomacy.
The deep divide that arose between Americans and people from the Middle East can be bridged. There are diplomatic ways to solve our problems as friends who care about each other’s futures.
Dr. Zeyad Alshammari
The US has been our close friend and ally who faithfully stood with us in the Gulf War in the ‘90s. Like so many from the Middle East, I continue to be deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in the terrorist attacks on 9/11 on New York City and the Pentagon, and the continued deep loss for families and communities in the years that have followed.
That loss is still with us all now 20 years later, even as children have grown into men and women. Arabs and Muslims who were just children then are now new generations of leaders. For example, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is now 35 years old. When 9/11 happened, he was a 15-year-old boy. Remember my grandfather’s advice. Even with the power structures or political dynamics that we inherit, ultimately, we are each individuals who can grow beautiful, prosperous friendships together if we want to.
The deep divide that arose between Americans and people from the Middle East can be bridged. There are diplomatic ways to solve our problems as friends who care about each other’s futures. Do not judge this generation of Arabs and Muslims, who were children during the attacks, to be the same as the few adults who committed these atrocities. We do not know what happened exactly, nor do we share responsibility for the harm done to our American friends. Please, look beyond the past, look at the present and the future, and see us for who we really are. We are individuals, not stereotypes, and so are you. We can mourn and remember together.
The 2,977 victims are always in our minds and prayers. May God bless and protect the United States of America.
• Dr. Zeyad Alshammari is the co-founder and executive director of the Quasar International Institute in Washington, DC, and adjunct professor - political science and international relations at NOVA. Twitter: @zeyad9999