It has been 10 years and I would rather forget that day but I still do remember quite a lot of things that happened on that day.
It was a normal day for me and I was driving to work in Arlington (less than a Mile from Pentagon). While driving i got a text message from my roommate that a plane had crashed into the world trade center. I thought it must be some drunken Wall Street guy in a Cessna and ignored the importance of that event. By the time i got to work, i realized that there was a lot of activity and chatter in the office. I used to work for a Defense Contractor and quite a few ex-military and reservists used to work for the company and me being the system administrator and quasi-helpdesk had to deal with them. As soon as I entered the office, i was met by our loving HR Manager, she told me about the plane crash and i told her my assumption it being a Cessna and some guy who didn’t want anything better with life. She then informed me that it was a passenger aircraft. This kind of hit me as very unusual and scary. I went to my office which i shared with one of our web developers. Our windows were towards the direction of the pentagon. I was talking to him, when there was news that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. I tried to go on BBC website but couldn’t, I tried other news website and it wouldn’t work. The net was choked with traffic and it was very slow, finally i got to the BBC website and was able to see the pictures of the WTC with smoke, it was horrific and i just didn’t know how to process that information or react to it.
I felt some people pass by my office and saw some stares at me, i had a beard, was a Muslim and wasn’t ashamed of it and i guess some coworkers had already found me or my religion guilty of this act that was still going on. whatever the case, i started my daily tasks and me and my coworker kept discussing the situation in New York, suddenly we heard a huge explosion and the building shook, my coworker looked out his window and said “Oh My God, they have bombed Pentagon”, i looked out my window and could see smoke from the general direction of pentagon. I was suddenly scared, I was scared as this thought was in the back of my mind, “What if this was done by some Muslims?” Then there was another huge explosion, we didn’t know what it was (later one we came to know that the Pentagon building had collapsed) but we started hearing rumors in the office about State Department building getting attacked by a bomb blast and so on. There was a lot of confusion, people were generally scared and i was among them. I and my coworker decided to go to the top of the parking lot but were told by building security that no one was allowed up there and we had to go down, by the time we got down stairs i was told by my director that there was liberal leave in effect and if i wanted to go home then i can take the day off.
I decided to do that as i felt a lot of eyes looking at me in the office. I felt uncomfortable so I packed up my stuff, went to my car which was parking in front of the building, i realized that what was happening was so serious and if Muslims had any hand in this, i should avoid any public display of islam and also remove the Islamic stickers from the back of my car. I removed these three stickers from my car, turned around and tried to leave, when i saw my director running towards me. He waved me to stop and I obliged. He was a great guy, an Ex Special forces person, served with some congressmen also and a very sane mind. He told me that he saw me removing the Islamic stickers from the car and thought that he should reassure me that America was not what i was thinking. USA was a civilized place, we don’t hold people responsible for actions of other people with similar faith and i should not be scared or worried. The removing of the Stickers from the car was too extreme of an action on my part. (Boy he was wrong)
After talking to my Director, i left and went home, one interesting thing happened when I was going home, as i tried to get onto Washington Blvd right outside my office, i was cut off by a Minivan, and then it stopped in front of me, Some Soccer mom came out of the van and opened the trunked, took some jacket out with initials of some Federal Agency and a gun, told me that the road was blocked and i should go some other way. It was very odd, a Soccer mom turning out to be some sort of James Bond.
One more thing i remember was that once i got onto Columbia pike, the scene was very similar to Independence Day, the scene where everyone is leaving DC and no one is driving in, Everyone was going the opposite direction of Pentagon and the road towards Pentagon was Empty. It was quite surreal, some people from their cars turning back and taking pictures of pentagon using their cell phones. I finally got home after an hour, parked my car, entered the apartment, turned on TV and watched the TV for the rest of the day. Took the day off next day and watched TV the next day also.
Looking back, i wish my director was right, I wish i wouldn’t have had so many problems but at the end of the day things did work out. The Islamophobia is part of life now for everyone and we have gotten used to it. September 11th changed the whole world; it truly affected Muslims in the world as much as it affected non-Muslims. Hate is something we cannot tolerate, be it from Muslims or non-Muslims.