I was born a Bible-wielding southerner in Lawrenceville, Ga. and groomed by a family so Protestant that even my Catholic friends were foreigners. Most of my classmates had last names like “Jones” or “Smith.” Everyone I knew went to church on Sunday morning.

But in 2001, my father got a work transfer to Washington, D.C., and my family moved out of the Bible Belt and into McLean, Va., just 15 minutes outside of the city. There, the elementary school was as diverse as the United Nations, and for the first time in my life, I had classmates with last names like “Nagishi” and “Fawad.”

In a perfect world, the mélange of cultures would have given me a healthy respect for people of all religions and ethnicities, but the fates seemed set against that happening. The timing of our move was particularly bad. My first day of school was Sept. 4, 2001. A week later, it was Sept. 11.

My actual memory of the 9/11 attacks is foggy. I do remember that most of our class was checked out of school in a matter of minutes, and that the teachers were cycling between classrooms watching us in short shifts while the others stepped away. I remember my mom explaining as we watched CNN that the Pentagon was very close to us — only 10 miles away — and that several students had likely lost parents that day. Mostly, I remember playing basketball with my brother in the driveway and wondering if a plane would fly into our house.

In the days immediately afterward, I was simmering in a stew of fear and confusion. Initially, the fear was most gripping. I was paralyzed by the thought that my father, who was a frequent flier, could have been just two gates away from boarding a hijacked plane. I expected more attacks to come, and since my mother had explained how important Washington was to the nation, I assumed that they would hit us first. I thought about what it would be like to have your parents die, or your siblings, or yourself.

The fear evaporated fairly quickly, but the confusion lingered for months afterward. I had been told that the hijackers were Islamic extremists, but to me, the word “extremist” didn’t hold nearly as much weight as the word “Islamic.” Before moving to Washington, I had never even heard of the religion and in just 10 days it had already been listed as a reason for an assault on the United States.

I wondered if other Muslims in our country, and even in my class, harbored the same hatred for the United States that al-Qaeda had espoused. I imagined them celebrating together around the television the way that our family did for the World Series.

By winter, I had developed a substantial suspicion that the Islamic students at my school were equally as fanatical as the hijackers had been. I avoided them during recess and after school and even stopped playing with a friend of mine named Zaid who had recently emigrated from Jordan. I allowed my confusion to ferment into hatred, and by the time I turned 11, I had developed a prejudice that I’ve been battling ever since.

At 20, I am now much more educated not only about the attacks, but on the religion about Islam as well. I know that it has just as much inner turmoil as Christianity, and that the extremist wings represent a minuscule but vocal minority of the religion. I know that American Muslims abhorred the attacks. I know that they have been the targets of bigotry ever since.

Nevertheless, I still find myself combating a loathing for Muslims in the United States. It is an embarrassing prejudice, one that I wish I were rid of, but that resurges every time I hear about a military casualty in the Middle East. I will not argue that it is justified, legitimate or appropriate. But I will admit that I have it, and that it is taking a long time to go away.

For 10 years now, Muslims have been apologizing for 9/11. Consider this my apology in return.

Jonathan Gillis is a junior in the College. He is the Deputy Features Editor for The Hoya.

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