Suehaila Amen is from Michigan, and describes how post 9/11 experiences have shaped her life. She challenges bigotry, ignorance, and advocates for equality for the Muslim American community. She has worked for the Federal Government in combating violent extremism with the Department of Homeland Security. Suehaila wants people to remember that Muslims are very much a part of the American fabric of society.
This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps at the Arab American National Museum. Story production credits are given to Sydney Jarol from StoryCorps Chicago.
“Not only were we affected as Americans by 9/11, but we were affected as Muslims and as Arabs because the word Muslim became synonymous with terrorism and we saw the backlash and we saw the way ignorance could rear its ugly head.
I did a lot of work with the federal government in different capacities, and have done counter-terrorism and combating violent extremism work since the establishment of Homeland Security and I remember traveling for a meeting with Homeland Security and there was a woman on the plane who kept complaining that she was uncomfortable that there was a veiled woman on the plane; and I could see the discomfort from the flight attendant. So, I turned around and I told her “Well, if you’re that concerned, feel free to get off the plane because I have to go to a meeting to educate ignorant people like you and I’m not going to let you hold me up”. Her response was like “Well, I never –“, she was just shocked that I would even have the audacity to say something to her, or she could have been shocked that I spoke perfect English with this horrible Michigan Midwestern accent.
People started to clap for me and then an agent came on the flight and told her that she needed to keep her mouth shut or that they’d gladly accommodate her in the Wayne County Jail and then she apologized to me for her behavior and left the flight. Though, that was just one occurrence. I’ve had people throw things at me and airports shout obscenities. I had one guy tell me “You’re a terrorist, you don’t belong here, you need to go back to where you came from” and being blessed with quick wit, I told him “Well, it’s called Detroit and I still have an hour and 10 minutes before my flight.”
I think people tend to forget that ultimately, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. There is nothing different between you and I, we are the same. We’re here wanting to live our lives, be happy, and fulfill goals. I always felt it was important for us to begin telling our stories and taking the opportunity to share our experiences because it seems that everyone is quick to want to tell our story for us and it’s through a very skewed view or a distorted lens and they’re not able to properly share the reality of who American Muslims are. What’s important is that we stand in the face of all the adversity that we’re dealing with in this political climate and know that we do have a voice. We are able to empower, inspire, and educate and that we have every right to stand firm in our choices and our decisions in this nation because we are contributing members of this society. We are able to embrace our faith, our culture, our traditions, and embrace being American, whether people choose to address it or not, Muslims are a very intricate part of the fabric of this nation and we’re not going anywhere and we will continue to be here and continue to flourish as we have, and this is our home.”