Fast forward about eight years, and I found myself walking over the mass burial site of the thousands of innocent Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who were killed in the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. I was in the midst of my five-week study in Beirut, Lebanon, with five other University of Kentucky students, and it was the second Palestinian refugee camp we had been to that day. Some of the faces of those killed stared at me from a memorial billboard on the site, which is now used as a small soccer field. That day had the most impact on me of the trip, because I could literally put faces to violence I had been learning about in my journalism class, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
Throughout our time during the study, we attended several lectures from professors of history, Islam and Middle Eastern politics, and were fortunate to go on a trip to Syria also. We immersed ourselves into the daily life of Beirut, interacting and befriending students at the university we were staying. Most people were friendly to us, and everyone we encountered was so happy to know that we wanted to learn more about their area of the world, their problems, their cultures, their religions and their people. I learned that they enjoy a lot of the same things as us, like movies, dancing and rap music.
Although we did not get to go to every area of the Middle East and they are all different with their own individual problems, I found comfort in knowing that the people we interacted with, even if they did not agree with the historical pro-Israeli position our government has taken, were favorable to the people. And if they weren’t before, hopefully they were a little more favorable after meeting us.
Fast forward to May 1, 2011, and I was standing amongst celebrators in front of the White House after bin Laden was killed. It struck me after all the excitement when I realized we were celebrating murder the way I saw people on the news celebrate on Sept. 11, 2001, and I fell silent.
Now the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, approaches — the horrific day that killed thousands of Americans’ innocent husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.
It was the day that made my seventh-grade sense of reality come crashing down and opened my eyes to the rest of the world, including its horrific monsters of hatred and ignorance but also its common denominators — ones capable of stretching halfway across the globe.
I’m hopeful that we will work toward a deeper sense of understanding of not only Muslims of the Middle East but ones in our own backyards and schools, and also all peoples of the Middle East. Then, the hardworking people lost in 9/11 will not have died in vain, and we can work toward a world with less hatred, ignorance, and ultimately, lives lost.
Contact Katie Perkowski at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter, @TheSunKatie.