Sunday, September 13, 2009

Explaining 9/11 to a Muslim Child

Over at NYT's Motherlode parenting blog, regular Lisa Belkin turns the climacteric responsibility of explaining 9/11 to a Muslim child over to a Muslim mother bringing up her child as a Muslim. 

Belkin's well-intentioned side-step aside, the article itself is quite unsatisfactory. Moina Noor, the guest blogger, merely gives her child and her readers an unsatisfactory recitation, "bad guys attack, buildings collapse. Don’t worry, I assured him, we’ll get the bad guys so they won’t do it again." 

The child is eight, that he is only now curious about this phrase so rife in the public imagination, is indicative of the protective bubble that Noor considers necessary to Muslim parenting. That she describes it in such cartoonish terms gives him no respect. Or protection; it does not prepare the child for either playground taunts or religious school misinformation.

The hermeneutic guilt, media-assigned and Muslim-internalized and the resultant contrition, extraneous and so unnecessary,  is writ so large in the Muslim consciousness, and in Noor's, that she fails. She is so busy explaining her Muslim upbringing ("devout but weren’t necessarily interested in teaching their neighbors about Islam."), Defensively interpreting her Muslim faith, ("We are like you. Islam is peaceful."), Vigilantly establishing her motherhood ("how do I, as a parent, explain the slaughter of innocent people in the name of a religion that I am trying to pass on to my boy?"), that there is little time or space left to formulate any real argument. Yes, the article lacks value, but it is because American society has decided not to value its Muslim citizens to such a dimension that this woman is unable to speak directly to her projected readers or honestly with her child.




lafifah said...

It's a personal blog piece - not an academic article. Therefore, no real 'argument' as such is necessary.

The article lacks value to you - fair enough. Yet, it speaks to so many Muslim parents who are trying to figure out what it means to raise children in America. The meaning of 9/11 the day after the attack was very different 8 years later - when we have seen that it has produced a new logic to wage an imperial war. How do you explain that to an 8 year old?

The'hermenutic guilt' you speak of is a prerequesite for an article to be published in the NYTimes. People want to know what 'kind' of muslim you are before they hear you.

While the value of this article has, in your opinion, failed - to me the value is in the exposure of nuanced Muslim persectives - that are personal - not trying to 'defend the faith'. We are all tired of that.

maya said...


If Noor's piece offered you solace or solidarity as a self-identified Muslim parent, I am sincerely happy on your behalf. I have felt similarly, sometimes to have one's predicament articulated is sufficient satisfaction.

I don't want to co-opt a situation that is not entirely mine, but I do have related situations as a mother of a minority nine-year-old, so my dissatisfaction lies in there not being enough strategy to go along with the commiseration.

Also, I feel a slow-boiling resentment with Muslims having to annotate their every statement with defensive conditionals. After all, the IRA in Ireland aren't popularly referred to as "Catholic terrorists," this bit about "Muslim terrorists," rather than Al Qaeda terrorists comes from an acceptable form of misrepresentation that doesn't not allow Muslim voices to speak freely. And then, like in the article, too much time is wasted on authenticating the Muslim self as non threatening and by then there's not enough time or space that can be devoted to organizing/leadership.