By Margaret Brinson, Managing Editor
The year 2011 marks the 10th year since the travesty that shattered lives and shaped a generation — Sept. 11, 2001.
A decade past the day of the attacks, time has perhaps been able to heal some of the hurts and holes left in the families of those who were lost on that day.
But for Arabs in America — the invisible victims of 9/11, left to face the blame for the actions of extremists — the attacks are anything but over.
According to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 30 percent of the public said they have a favorable opinion of Islam. Meanwhile, 38 percent replied unfavorably. This is in contrast to a similar study from 2005, in which more said they had a favorable opinion of the religion. But is this sentiment reflected in Jackson?
Sandro Jadon is starting a cell phone business on Hollywood Drive. An Arab immigrant from Israel, Jadon will soon have been in the United States 10 years — he arrived in the months following the attacks of 2001.
Jadon holds a dual citizenship between the two nations he has come to call home.
Next door to his start-up, Alex Hanson, from Lebanon, runs the only Middle Eastern grocery in town. He too has been in America 10 years, though he came to Jackson only weeks prior to Sept. 11. When the attacks came, Hanson said he was anxious as to how his newfound community would react. His English still was not quite solid, and he was afraid.
Jackson does not have much of an Arab community.
The minute amount of migrants who have made their way to West Tennessee is widespread, and Jadon and Hanson’s side-by-side setup is about the closest thing in the city to an Arab district.
For Jadon, the life of an Arab-American in Jackson is simply described: “It’s difficult.”
“A lot of people bothered me when 9/11 first happened,” Hanson said. “You need to let it pass. I know these people were hurting, but it was not my fault.”
According to Hanson, hateful threats and racist remarks have lessened in the 10 years since Sept. 11, and with his warm smile and hearty laugh it is easy to see how a community could rally around such a neighbor and friend.
“I’ve been here 10 years,” Hanson said. “People know me.”
From Jadon’s perspective, however, not much has changed.
Whether it be the everyday ignorance of assumptions — like the times people take him for a Mexican, punctuating their questions with “Eh, Amigo?” — or more intentional slurs, like terrorist, racism in America is far from reformed.
“The fear has lessened,” he said. “Just like the house smells and you walk in and stay there for three hours and then it doesn’t smell anymore, but it does.
“Hate got confused. It’s like an energy, it didn’t really go away, it just changed forms to confusion and distrust and then hate again, and then not so much hate. Americans don’t know who to trust anymore, I guess.”
Both men emphasized the need for understanding and education to eradicate ignorance and with it, hate, injustice and fear.
One of the frustrations Jadon said he often encounters is the stereotype that all Arabs are Muslim.
Himself a Christian, Jadon pointed out the fact that Christianity was actually birthed in the Middle East.
“If you want to go to the roots of the problem, then understand. People have to view people as people,” He said.
But whether education will solve every aspect of race relations in the United States is up for debate.
Understanding, Hanson said, comes also from conversations, relationship-building and getting to know a neighbor with a different nationality.
In the end, communities will have to come together.
“This is life: You can live it with happiness, or you can live it in hate,” Hanson said. “If you want to fix something, fix yourself.
“The new generation is going to make all the difference. The time to hate is over. If we keep separate, we will be weak.”