Golzar Kheiltash

Story Transcripts /
  + 12/7/41 and 9/11/01 : “I woke up to my roommate screaming”
+ Aftermath : “The atmosphere in the lounge was beyond tense”
+ Being American : “You had to reaffirm your loyalty ”
+ Loss : “I don’t say “Bin Laden” over the phone”
+ Never Again : “Because they hate us”
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12/7/41 and 9/11/01
“I woke up to my roommate screaming”
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I was in bed and I woke up to my roommate screaming in the living room. I guess she had the TV on, and we have a small TV, so I’m peering in and trying to see, like, what is going on and she’s hysterical and I can’t get any kind of answer from her like, what’s wrong. And right then, it was like seven-fortyish, one of them came down and then I just was like oh my god. And I think it was on CBS because I remember Dan Rather’s voice saying something like the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas has taken credit for this, we think, we believe. And when I heard that, I absolutely lost it and was like oh no, it’s starting already.

“The atmosphere in the lounge was beyond tense”
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I knew the student lounge would have a TV. We usually have a TV for big events like the elections and all that. And that was the first time I saw images of the actual thing with the plane hitting and people jumping out of the 90th floor and, I mean, I was just sobbing ’cause I couldn’t believe—I couldn’t believe that people were dying like that. I mean, it was so unbelievably sad. And then after a while, I just kind of felt extremely claustrophobic because the atmosphere in the lounge was beyond tense and all that. So I felt all of a sudden that people who I had been in class with the year before, laughing and talking to, all of a sudden have this kind of “look” to them. Which usually doesn’t bother me, but in that situation it was just—oh my god—like seeing it kind of get propelled into this huge thing right in front of my eyes, knowing what’s going to happen in the next few days and weeks, and the countries that are going to be brought into this, and the name calling and the stereotyping that is sure to follow, I mean, it was literally the most amazing thing, knowing that you’re going to see all that happen. And right then this one guy, who was standing a few feet away, said they should just nuke the whole Middle East. And when he said that I was, like, I can’t handle this. So you’re really stricken with grief, at the same time you’re afraid of people’s reactions and this thing that is just snowballing, that you can just see it snowballing. So I just called my mom and said I’m leaving, I’m leaving school, and I drove up to San Jose for six hours and spent a week at home.

Being American
“You had to reaffirm your loyalty ”
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Right after September 11th, Arab Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, Muslim Americans, felt that they had to say, in order not to be perceived as a traitor, or a terrorist, or as sympathizing, “I’m American first.” Why do you have to say that? I mean, we’re human beings before we’re any particular nationality and the fact that you had to, kind of, reaffirm your loyalty to this country by saying, “I’m American first,” and then I pray five times a day, or, and then I speak Arabic with my children. I thought that wasn’t fair for people to have to be put into that kind of position.

“I don’t say “Bin Laden” over the phone”
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I mean things like if in your email you use the word “terrorist” or “Bin Laden” or “jihad” or something like that. And there’s some database somewhere that intercepts that email and your email address goes on this list and so if you use those words a lot, obviously you’re raising a red flag for whoever’s looking at this list. I think that’s absolutely amazing. If that’s not an encroachment on your privacy, what is? I don’t say Bin Laden over the phone. I don’t say like, “that bastard Bin Laden” over the phone. I don’t say it. Because I know if I do, and someone is listening, “that bastard” is going to be cut out and “Bin Laden” is going to be preserved on whatever list, whatever thing that they have going.

Never Again
“Because they hate us”
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Right after 9/11 I think we had a very rare opportunity to do some serious reflecting. Everyone kept asking, “Why did this happen?” And the answer stopped at “because they hate us.” That was it. That was the answer. Okay great, we got the answer, move on. They hate us, fine, we’re gonna nuke the crap out of ’em. That was the response. Instead of really reflecting and trying to see why do they hate us? Have we done anything? If we have, what was it? I’m not saying any answer to this would have justified what happened on 9/11, I don’t think anything can. But if we’re to learn from something that heinous and tragic, saying they hate us and moving on to bomb them, it can’t possibly help.