When his friends jokingly call him a terrorist, Omar Taranissi doesn’t take offense.
When Taranissi and his family travel overseas to places like Egypt, getting pulled aside regularly by airport security isn’t a big deal, he said.
Growing up Muslim in America following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is an aspect of life the 18-year-old said he has become accustomed to.
“There’s lots of things that I just take for face value,” Taranissi said about racism toward Muslims.
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City occurred when Taranissi was in third grade. He recalled the tragic day, describing how he viewed it at a young age.
“I didn’t realize it was such a big deal,” he said. “I started to realize it was serious the next day and the following days when they, the media, kept bringing it up.”
At school, Taranissi interacted with children in his grade. He said he became more devout during elementary school, and was able to share his Muslim culture with his classmates.
Taranissi said that after the terrorist attacks, his peers seemed to make up their minds about Islam and its practitioners.
“Children that age probably only overhear what their parents say or repeat what’s on the TV,” he said.
Taranissi said it took him a couple years to fully understand the event, but that as time progressed, he began to grasp the full impact of what took place on Sept. 11, 2001. He then began to feel the anger so many other Americans had about the attacks.
Taranissi said he thinks the key change that occurred after the 9/11 attacks was the intensification of stereotypes about Muslims and Islam. Now, he said, when most people think about the word "terrorism" — including himself — he tends to conjure the image of someone who is Arabic.
"Before, when you thought of the word 'terrorist,' there wasn't exactly a prototype that you saw in your brain," he said. "Now, when someone says 'terrorist,' you immediately think Muslim."
Taranissi said that though he's suffered from minor racial slurs in the past, he doesn’t think his peers meant him any harm.
“A lot of what happened to me, I interpret it as kids being kids. If someone is joking and laughing and calling me a terrorist, I don’t get offended. … It’s not any different from teasing someone who has red hair and freckles,” he said.
Taranissi said that through education, Americans will be able to understand Islam and Muslims. People should see that the stereotypes of the Arabic world are not necessarily true; according to the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness that should not be associated with acts of violence against the innocent.
Taranissi said Arabic extremists can’t call themselves true Muslims practicing Islam.
“Islam condemns violence,” he said. “Cultures interpret the Quran and the Hadith just to match whatever world view they have, so they can discriminate against women or defeat their enemies.”
Taranissi said he tries to balance his life as a Muslim and a young adult through education, logic and hard work. But Taranissi said he continues to live without any hard feelings toward those who discriminate against him.
Ymani Wince reported this story during the Minority Urban Journalism Workshop this summer at the MU School of Journalism.