Opinion

Shame of a Persian: A 9/11 story | Andy Hobbs

On Sept. 10, 2001, passengers in airport security lines wore their shoes, and fringe churches cared little about burning the Koran. The day before extremists hijacked airplanes and crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and rural Pennsylvania, there was no “war on terror” or mass hatred of Osama bin Laden.

The collective fear that gripped the nation on 9/11 cannot be understated. Seared into our minds is the image of people jumping from those burning buildings as smoke draped the Manhattan skyline. Everyone remembers those flaming towers crumbling on live television. At that moment, a line was drawn in the sand of American culture.

A few weeks after the attacks, I first noticed the new divide. I was one of three cornfed white guys who joined our mutual friend, an Iranian-American named Navid, on a camping trip with his three Persian friends.

No one ever mentioned 9/11, but we were all soaked by the political climate of 9/11, whether we liked it or not. The mixed company created awkward silences and strained conversations beyond our control. While making small talk, I blindly asked one guy about his family. With a confession-like shame in his quivering voice, the guy “admitted” he was Persian. The subject never resurfaced.

Earlier that day, we hiked a few miles through a Northern Arizona forest to a serene waterfall. Navid and his friends led the way as the three white guys followed along the trail. At the waterfall, we took off our shirts and jumped in the cold water. For everyone, the waterfall seemed like a symbol of cleansing. Seven men reached a destination together after nearly losing our way at one point. After cooling down in the middle of nowhere, we trekked back to camp as seven hikers, rather than two groups hiking together.

That night, we sat around the campfire, grilling hot dogs and guzzling beer. Sometimes the Persians talked among themselves in a language I did not understand. They listened politely to the folk tunes strummed by the three guitar-carrying white guys. Our mutual friend, Navid, was the bridge between these two groups. I am grateful he brought us together that weekend. The dust from 9/11 had yet to settle. We were forced to face the untamed fears swirling in a culture stained by the thirst for justice after 9/11.

The seven guys on this camping trip conquered the ethnic tension and found common ground. In some ways, these seven guys needed a lesson in co-existence, not so much as two separate cultures, but as humans co-existing with uncertainty.

On that camping trip, seven Americans accepted the truth about a changing world, pushed up their sleeves and moved forward.

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