The View From Here
The Letter

The View From Here
5:00 pm, Wednesday, September 12th, 2001.

I walked into my classroom this morning, and found a room full of scared, worried young women. Classes have only barely started for this semester, so my students didn't know me that well yet. As soon as I came in, they asked, "Are you from America?" When I said yes, they asked if I had friends or family in Washington or New York. I told them I had friends in Washington, but they were alright. I said I'd been awake until three am, to make sure everyone was safe.

And then we just sat and talked. Forget the lesson plans, and getting into the meat of the semester. Today wasn't a day for teaching. The quiz, the editing and the research guidelines just didn't matter today.

Being a teacher, part of my job is to help my students make sense of the world. Since my students are University age, at that stage where one minute they are mature young adults and the next minute children, I'm here to help guide them as they sort out their worlds for themselves - along with teaching the subject matter in my class description, of course.

How can I help them make sense of this when I can't make sense of it myself? I'm in just as much shock as they are. I want someone to say it's alright, just like they do. Nothing in this is straightforward. All the emotions are complex. Relief that my own family and friends are safe combined with worry for those whose aren't, or remain unknown.

The most striking emotional cocktail of this for me is the reassurance and heartbreak at how desperately my students want this not to have been done by Arabs.

You see, I teach in the Middle East. All those young women who are my students are Arabs. Muslims. I've seen and heard of people in the US saying "Damn Arabs" or "Damn Muslims" or "Damn Middle Easterners". That, and worse.

To some of you, Arabs may be nameless and faceless, counted as suspicious or dangerous. Easy to blame. To me, Arabs are my students and their families. Arabs are as diverse a group as any other. Hating them all would be like hating all Europeans for the atrocities in Kosovo or Serbia. Let me make them less faceless for you.

My students are young women. Like University students anywhere, they're worried about grades and exams, about course requirements and majors, and, of course, about juggling their classwork with their social lives. They have dreams and plans, about their careers, about marriage and family, about places they'd like to travel to. They may dress differently than a group of women the same age in the US, but underneath the shayla and abaya, they're not very different at all.

Today, they're in shock. They're worried about war. They're concerned about their relatives who are in the States. They remember the Gulf War, and they're afraid this will be so much worse. Our University is near an airport. Normally, they just ignore the planes as they take off and land. Either they pause until the sound has died down, or try to talk over it. Today, they flinched. I've never seen the planes make them nervous before.

They're horrified by the attacks on the United States. While they are angry that the US appears to support Israel, they cannot accept what has happened. My students do not celebrate this, nor do they take it lightly. They say it is harram - forbidden by religion. The deaths of so many innocents can never be acceptable. Not for any reason.

My students are still learning English. They had to struggle, sometimes, to express themselves. They know how to talk about classes and majors. They know the vocabulary for the lives of University students. They don't have the words for the deaths of innocents. I find it tragic that they had to learn the word "innocent" under such appalling circumstances.

I can no more make sense of this for you, or for myself, than I could for my students. All I can do is pray for the victims, and pray for Peace.

Chris Tremlett
English Language Center
College of Arts and Sciences
Zayed University
Dubai, UAE

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