Be careful on the road, my mother told me on the morning of September 11, 2001 after having watched with complete shock and horror from our home in Northern Virginia the first plane plunge into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. By the time it was 9am, I thought I still needed to go to class. I had barely got to know the professor but she seemed very picky about attendance. Driving to the university, which was about 20 minutes away, I couldnt help but look up at the sky worried and ponder what had just happened. The atmosphere at school was very tense; most students were talking about the attacks in New York not knowing what to make of it. Minutes into my class, our professor told us, this is a class of history but I cant teach while real history is happening outside. We were dismissed and immediately rushed to the general foyer where everybody was glued to the big television screens, trying to decipher what had happened. Images of Osama bin Laden had by now been telecast and the Middle East connection was already established. By then everybody had lost signal on their mobile phones and it was a matter of getting home to be with loved ones. Ironically, my second class carried on despite the attacks and only finished just after 12:30pm. By then, the Pentagon had already been attacked and our level of worry was sky high. I thought of my brother-in-law, who worked very close to the Pentagon and if he was okay. Walking back to my car, a student shouted in my direction, Arabs did it. Luckily for me, that was the extent of bullying I encountered as an Arab American during the next months. 9/11 shook most people I knew, Arab Americans included. Almost immediately, stories of racial abuse and rhetorical and physical attacks on anybody who looked Middle Eastern or Muslim occurred not just in Virginia, but in other states too. There were a number of fatwas at the time which tried to deal with this. One still clear in my mind proposed that it was okay for women who wear the hijab to take it off in the months following the attacks (perhaps wearing a hat instead) to avoid being targeted. But beyond this, the big question was, what was the US retaliation going to be and would these terrible attacks be used to justify further hegemonic behaviour from the worlds only super power? The short answer: yes. Within 18 months, the US was now engaged in a full fledged war in Afghanistan, had its sight set on Iraq and as ridiculous as its reasonings were (former secretary of state Colin Powells UN address comes to mind) it seemed an invasion of Iraq was imminent. Never mind the millions of people who marched on the streets of Washington DC, London, Berlin, Paris, and other major cities in protest. The invasion would take place even if the US couldnt come up with a post-invasion strategy. For the most part, Arab Americans found themselves in a position where their allegiance to their country was being questioned. We witnessed the establishment of Home Land Security and the Patriot Act, as well as the beginning of the war on terror and the White Houses freedom agenda. The then-US president George W. Bush seemed unstoppable. Actually, let me rephrase: then-US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld seemed unstoppable. The youre either with us or against us mantra was set in full gear and all we could do is sit and watch. Needless to say, Americas invasion of Iraq, which was being propositioned as the way to bring democracy to the region, did not inspire fellow Arabs to get democracy. It wasnt until 2011 that Arabs in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and beyond took matters in their own hands and opted for peaceful protests as a means to fight for freedom and rid themselves of dictatorships. Change came to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and Bin Laden had nothing to do with it. On the other hand, a quick look at Afghanistan and Iraq today shows the US missions havent entirely been successful, with America now negotiating with the Taliban in Afghanistan (the same people it bombed in 2001) and on the verge of pulling its troops from Iraq after long bloody years (where violence and suicide bombings are still very much the norm). Americas foreign wars cost trillions and resulted in the deaths of thousands of US soldiers. But most importantly for the Arab world, tens of thousands of Muslims died as a direct result of these wars and this played a pivotal role in how Arabs and Muslims perceive America. And if US image suffered under Bush, its reached an all time low under current President Barack Obama, whose ineptness and empty promises have been utterly disappointing. Which brings us to the peace process - what most academics and experts will agree is the single most important element of Arab/Muslim-American relations. That the US was unable to stand up to Israel (and there were many chances including Israels invasion of Gaza, of Lebanon and its ongoing blockade on the Strip) has damaged Washingtons credibility beyond repair. Its no wonder the Palestinians are scrambling to get to the UN later this month and appeal to the international community for statehood recognition, completely ignoring American and Israeli wishes. The truth is, the ruthless attacks on America and Israels ongoing brutality against Palestinians are connected. Yet the US continues to ignore that, planting more seeds of hatred and giving the terrorists more ammunition; its worth mentioning when the 9/11 Commission Report came out, there was a clear omission of the Palestinian problem being a motivation for the terrorists even though it was discussed at the 9/11 Commission hearing. Its this kind of blind policy towards Israel, which amounts to injustice, that will continue to haunt the US. Ten years ago, our world was shaken by the terror attacks of 9/11. We sought to understand what had happened and why. The US in its reaction helped create more enemies who saw its wars as a sheer act of arrogance. 9/11 became a prelude to a decade of further violence. This contributed to an increase of hate and deeper misunderstanding between the US and other parts of the world and a rise in anti-Americanism. It is hoped that in ten years time, America will have invested more in correcting its image abroad through its actions and finding ways to lead in a less hegemonic way thus returning to its true principles and values. Perhaps the rise of Asia would make the latter point less relevant. Gulf News