Listen: Muslim-American Family Speaks Out On Challenges of Living In Omaha During the "9/11 Era"

Sept. 9, 2021, 6:45 a.m. ·

Besham Basma and his Daughter, Norhan ( Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Listen To This Story

With the 20th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks coming up, William Padmore of Nebraska Public Media News spoke with members of Nebraska’s Islamic community about what it was like growing up in the “9/11 era” of American history. Norhan Basma, 22, is a first-generation American and her father, Hesham, 56, is originally from Cairo, Egypt.

William Padmore: How important is your faith to your identity?

Norhan Basma: My faith is very important to my identity and a big part of that is actually because of 9/11 because for a while, as a kid, I used to shelter the fact that I was a Muslim because I knew that there was negative repercussions that come with it because of the stereotypes and racism that had, you know, echoed from the events that happened that day. But as I grew older and became more educated and more involved with the community in Omaha, the Islamic community, I realized that those stereotypes don't really affect me in the way that I should see my faith.

William Padmore: When I was growing up, a common thing that would happen, or that does happen in a lot of African-American households, is that parents will have a "talk" with their children about ways to act in front of law enforcement to prevent a negative interaction because of the history of the African-American community and law enforcement in this country. And I'm curious, did you have to go through a similar sort of talk with your parents about what the world might have in store for someone of your faith?

Norhan Basma: Honestly, no, but I think that that's because I was very aware of it from a young age. I mean, it's not easy for someone to tell that I'm Muslim, but my mom wears a headscarf. So I've always seen the way people stare at her. I've been with her when people have made comments. So like, I'm always on high alert when I'm with her. Because I'm always worried someone's gonna, like, say something insulting or racist towards her because of, she's obviously-like, with the headscarf-you can tell she's Muslim. When we were kids, she took us to the apartment pool that when we had just first moved in, it was on Paddock Road. When we showed up, the woman had told my mother that she couldn't go into the pool with us unless she was wearing a bathing suit because she couldn't go in with her normal clothes. And my mom noticed that there were other parents in there that we're just, like, sitting in like their normal attire and not swimming in the pool. She even told the worker that she wasn't going to swim, she was just there to watch us and she refused my mom to go in. And so one day when my dad had his friend over, who's also a lawyer, my mom told him about what had happened. And he told her that she's not allowed to like discriminate against my mom like that, because we're in America and all this stuff. And like, my parents were still new to the country, so I don't know how familiar they were with the laws and how people can treat them and so on. So they ended up suing the swimming pool and they won the lawsuit.

William Padmore: Obviously, people know more about Islam. Do you think that people have the right understanding of Islam at this point? Or do you think that people still are very much misguided in their thinking about it?

Hesham Basma: (It's) still gonna take very long time. Islam is a very peaceful religion. I know that there's extremist, and there's really extreme people, but you will see this in all religions. It's not only in Islam. We (Muslims) did not integrate and we did not interact with the community that well to really reflect what Islam is about. So part of that is on us. But I think the other major part is on the media to really show how most of the Muslims around the world live, live in peace and harmony. So I think it's, it's us, but at the same time, also, there is a huge part on the media.

William Padmore: Well, let me ask you, why do you think number one, that the Muslim community was so hesitant to reach out, like you say, and then second, why do you think that the media was so quick to pick up the negative stereotype?

Hesham Basma: When a huge incident like 9/11 happens, I mean, any group or any denomination, or any sect, will try just to stay away. We don't really want to have this very big impact on the community. So probably, they were scared of the reaction. But we are still really a minority in the country. So we still need really, to to work more, to work harder just to educate the people about Islam.

William Padmore: Has that proven harder or easier than you expected?

Hesham Basma: I thought when Obama came to the power, I mean, this is the real democracy. This is something that you will never, ever see in any other place other than United States. Eight years after that, you see a very different country, very polarized country with the Trump era. And unfortunately, there was, you know, bad image again about Islam and Muslims during that Trump era. It was a very polarized country again and I think it's gonna stay this way because unfortunately, it's not coming back. It's still very polarized and I'm afraid that we still have a really long way to go here.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity