While many of my thoughts today were of sadness, lives lost, and what Patriot Day means – I had some other thoughts too. Things I had not thought about in a very long time. Writing is usually cathartic to me. I’m not sure this time will be.
My September 11 thoughts:
I never thought much about terrorists and certainly didn’t have the words “radical Islam” in my vocabulary in 1981 when I was a student at Weber State, but that year, the same year my daughter was born, is the year I realized it existed – even though I didn’t have the words.
While a student at Weber State, I worked nights and graveyards at Sambos, a 24 hour coffee shop, in Odgen, Utah. There was an intelligent, vibrant, thoughtful man by the name of Nabil that frequented my station. Nabil was a Libyan national that had studied at Weber State and had stayed in the U.S. after graduation, working for a Libyan gas and oil company. Despite being an Air Force brat and having friends of many races, religions, and nationalities – Nabil was the 1st Muslim I became truly friendly with. Much to my surprise, Muslim students were very common at the very “Mormon” Weber State. Unlike me, pretty much the only white non-Mormon girl on campus. Nabil loved to discuss music, politics, relationships, religion, dating within and outside one’s religion, and literature – late into the night. No topic seemed offensive or off the table. On one of our late night conversations, as I was refreshing his coffee, I jokingly asked Nabil how I ended up as the “minority” at Weber. He joked back a bit and suggested I become Mormon or Muslim and all my problems would be solved. He then shared with me that his country felt that colleges that were predominantly Mormon were a good fit due to perceived religious lifestyle similarities, especially dating and marrying within one’s own religion.
Nabil always requested to be seated in my station and I never really understood that. So, I asked him one day. He told me that he always sat in my station when I was working because I respected his religion more than he did because I was the 1st person to think to tell him that the bean soup had pork in it. He also shared that while he didn’t care that there was pork in the soup, he found it to be a sweet, sincere gesture. He also found out that my father had been stationed in Saudi Arabia and when he briefly met him once, they discussed countries and cities they had both been to, and that he really liked and respected my dad – and therefore we had some connection. I did not understand what he was talking about at all at the time. I often didn’t.
He really was a funny and thoughtful guy. Once he made me a paper rose bouquet from napkins and straws when he found out I was working on my birthday. He shared that he came to love America and what it stood for in his mind. Freedom, fireworks, birthday cakes, he grew to love it all. He had an American gf and had decided not to return to Libya. He said Ogden was a perfect spot – his gf was a jack – Mormon and he would become a jack – Muslim. Then he would laugh. He also had a super serious side and told me on more than one occasion, always in a lowered voice, that he worried that there were many, too many, “extreme countrymen and other extreme Muslims” as he called them – that wanted the western world to cease to exist. Literally, like convert or die – cease to exist. He worried that too many of his fellow countrymen were straying very far from what he felt was their true religion. He often spoke about his doom and “world doom.” He often told me to marry, have a family, and go live in a small town, be a teacher, enjoy the American dream – but, not in a big city, so that I’d be safer. He said war always starts in big cities. I remember thinking at the time that he was being a bit dramatic. I was young and dumb and despite being an Air Force brat, I had grown up in the American cocoon and had no clue what he was talking about.
A rather surly man named Mohamed came in with Nabil occasionally. Mohamed never came in alone. He refused to speak to females, which caused a problem because the whole wait staff was female and our male fry cooks would have none of his nonsense of him barking his order over the counter to them. He would have Nabil order for him, then chastise him for speaking to a “slave girl.” Nabil never seemed to be at ease around Mohamed. They usually argued throughout their whole meal. I didn’t understand that this was not a traditional friendship and asked Nabil why he was friends with such a character. He told me that they were not friends, merely countrymen that were paired to keep tabs on each other. I could not comprehend, at the time, what that was all about.
The last time I saw Nabil, it was early spring of 1981 and I was no longer working at Sambo’s. I was married, pregnant, and we met by chance as I stopped in with a couple former waitress friends for a late night snack. He joked that I was half way to his dream for me – I just needed to find a small town and be happy.
I was living in California by the time the following took place.
What the report below won’t tell you is that prior to what happened is that Nabil’s gf, also not understanding the gravity of his situation, told Mohamed that she and Nabil planned to marry and that she planned to help him get citizenship once they were married and Nabil would not be returning to Libya.
Shortly after, Nabil was found shot to death and left in the trunk of his own car. Mohamed was arrested at the airport on his way back to Libya.
I try to believe that the Muslim religion is supposed to be one of peace because Nabil told me so. He also taught me that the word Islam does not exactly mean peace, but to give over of oneself in a peaceful way – more of a submission. I also know that he told me that he feared that his religion had been hijacked by extremists for political purposes and he was extremely worried it wouldn’t end well for anyone. Especially him. RIP Nabil.
If only there were more Nabils in the world, and people to listen to them, and people to protect them.