Perils of growing up Muslim continue long after 9/11
McCluer North High School/Florissant, Mo.
COLUMBIA — When his friends jokingly call him a terrorist, Omar Taranissi doesn’t take offense.
When Taranissi and his family travel overseas to places like Egypt, getting pulled aside regularly by airport security isn’t a big deal, he said.
However, growing up Muslim in America following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is an aspect the 18-year-old said he has become accustomed to.
“There’s lots of things that I just take for face value,” Taranissi said about racism toward Muslims.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City occurred when Taranissi was in third grade. He recalls the tragic day, describing how he viewed it at a young age.
“I didn’t realize it was such a big deal,” he said. “I started to realize it was serious the next day and the following days when they the media kept bringing it up.”
At school, Taranissi interacted with children in his grade and even shared his Muslim culture with them. It was during elementary school that Taranissi said he began to fast and pray more.
Taranissi said that after the terrorist attacks, his peers seemed to have made up their minds about what to think of Islam and people who practice that faith.
“Children that age probably only overhear what their parents say or repeat what’s on the TV,” he said.
As time progressed, Taranissi began to grasp the impact of what took place on Sept. 11, and he said it took a couple of years for him to fully understand the event.
Once he understood what happened, Taranissi said he felt the anger so many other Americans had about the attacks.
“I now understood; these foreigners came onto our land unprovoked and attacked a major city, killing thousands of people,” he said.
Since then, Taranissi said he has formed an opinion about the Muslim world in regards to terrorism.
Taranissi said that out of the attacks, the key change that occurred was the stereotype of Muslims and Islam.
Now, he said, Muslims or anyone who simply looks Arabic is considered the face of terrorism. As the stereotype has become more of a prevalent issue in society, Taranissi said that when he thinks about the word ‘terrorism,’ he tends to conjure the image of someone who is Arabic. However, Taranissi said he does recognize how Americans seem to focus on one specific impression of terrorists.
“Before, when you thought of the word ‘terrorist,’ there wasn’t exactly a prototype that you saw in your brain,” Taranissi said. “Now, when someone says ‘terrorist,’ you immediately think Muslim … we don’t talk about white terrorists in Russia or the terrorists in America.”
Taranissi said that though he has suffered from minor racial slurs in the past, he doesn’t think his peers mean any harm.
“A lot of what happened to me, I interpret it as kids being kids. If someone is joking and laughing and calling me a terrorist, I don’t get offended … it’s not any different from teasing someone who has red hair and freckles,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009, about 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied on school property.
Children bully their peers for a number of reasons, including poor self-control, problems at home and a personal acceptance of violence, according to the centers.
Taranissi said that through education, Americans will be able to understand Islam and Muslims. People should see that the stereotypes of the Arabic world are not necessarily true.
According to the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness that should not be associated with acts of violence against the innocent.
Taranissi said that Arabic extremists can’t call themselves true Muslims practicing Islam.
“Islam condemns violence,” he said. “Cultures interpret the Quran and the Hadith just to match whatever world view they have, so they can discriminate against women or defeat their enemies.”
Taranissi said he tries to balance his life of being Muslim and a young adult through education, logic and hard work. But Taranissi said he continues to live without any harsh feelings toward those who discriminate against him.
Taranissi has tried to live the typical life of an 18-year-old. He enjoys soccer, listening to music and hanging out with his friends.
That seems pretty American.