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I feel like I’ve written or told this story a hundred times before. I’m not even sure if it made out into some tangible form, or if I replayed the events in my head from time to time over the last decade. Every passing September makes my heart ache. I was thankfully not directly affected by the tragedy that day, but it affected me nonetheless.
I remember that September 11, 2001 had started off as a bright day. Bright enough to coax me out of bed, and out of the house, on my way to high school. It was only the second week; classes had not yet lost their novelty. The first two classes passed unremarkably. Even if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to remember what those classes were. My third class, though, I will never forget.
It was science research, a class devoted to introducing students to lab techniques and research skills. It was a little past 9:40 AM, and several of us were gathered around the desk to the far corner of the room, talking about whatever high school sophomores talk about. One of the girls came running in a little after class started, and exclaimed that planes had hit the World Trade Center. She was someone who had a tendency to be a little silly, if not outlandish, and so I didn’t believe her at first. Who would want to? It was when the wood shop teacher walked in from next door, solemn and silent, that we realized that something indeed was wrong.
We were shepherded into his classroom, where a TV had been wheeled in, blaring the news. There we stood or sat, transfixed, watching smoke billow out from the angry, blazing gashes that had torn through each World Trade Center tower. I remember some students crying, some were talking out loud. Others were anxiously calling their parents who worked at or near the World Trade Center. I don’t remember what I felt exactly, probably because at that moment, I felt empty. I had no idea how to react, because what had happened was so beyond the scope of what was possible, that my mind and body were blindsided. I watched, as though in a trance, as the smoke continued to pour out, and the voices of the news anchors danced nervously around, unsure quite how to react themselves. Gone was the notion that the United States was, somehow, impervious to outside forces. Wars were supposed to be few and far between, fought oceans away, not in my own backyard. Any impression of peace and stability was quickly and mercilessly eviscerated.
I remember that a good friend of mine was sitting next to me, palpably frightened, though perhaps only comforted by the fact that she had discovered that her mother was not in harm’s way. We were sitting together when, at 9:59 AM, the South Tower began to collapse. Forever etched into my memory is the sound of the small scream that escaped my friend’s lips at the moment the roar of the flames and the crunching sound of failing structural beams became one, as everything screamed towards street level. For me, that was the sound that marked the boundary between what once was, and what is now. Innocence, and innocence lost. The start of a terrible new chapter, but everyone was too frightened to willingly turn the page.
I remember that when I left the school that day and looked west, the sky was now covered with a faint, gray haze. “Smoke from the Twin Towers, most likely,” said a friend of mine.
Later that night, I remember sitting on my bed, thinking about the the day’s events, and of what happens now. I was thinking about the thousands upon thousands of bodies scattered throughout the site: some dead, some barely clinging on, and the rest working to save them. Death was not something I was familiar with, let alone on such a scale and in such close proximity. That was the first time that I openly wept that day.
I was scared, not only for future attacks from beyond our borders, but attacks from within. Hate crimes had started almost as soon as word had gotten out that the terrorists were mostly Arab Muslims. Anyone who looked potentially Arab and/or Muslim was a target, including my family, my friends, and me. I heard stories about not only Muslims, but Sikhs and Hindus being taunted, beaten up, and in some cases, gunned down. All paid the pound of flesh that they did not owe. While the incidence of those crimes died down almost as quickly as they had appeared, the simmering anger against Muslims was still present.
Ten years later…
Ten years later, Osama is dead, along with thousands of people with terrorist leanings. So is Saddam, and hundreds of thousands of Afghani and Iraqi civilians. So are thousands of US soldiers.
Ten years later, Muslims (and to some extent many South Asians) are still vilified. Every opportunity to throw stones seems to be taken by people who don’t understand that the sins of the few should not fall on the shoulders of the whole group, and that just because the color of our skin is the same as another group, doesn’t mean we are the same. If you don’t believe me, look at any news story that involves a Muslim, and read the comments from the readers. It is shameful.
Ten years later, The first responders, who put aside family and other responsibilities to toil at the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center, have had to pay a huge price for their sacrifice. Many have developed significant respiratory issues, others have developed cancers that normally occur far more rarely. For this, they have received little, aside from empty words of support and promises, as they face further death and disability. Slowly, steps are being taken in the right direction to provide compensation, but they deserve far more than that.
Ten years later, we receive word of another “credible” threat though “unconfirmed.” I truly hope that nothing happens. Yet, this is just another stop on the paranoia roller coaster many of us in the United States have been riding since 9/11. At this point, I feel like the way in which news outlets cover stories about terror threats, acts of violence, and other similar events has moved so far beyond “the boy who cried wolf” that every threat, credible or otherwise, has become background noise to me. It shouldn’t, but it has. This is what fear-mongering does. It saturates and obliterates any ability to discern what is worth worrying about, and what can be put aside.
Ten years later, I worry that I have descended into a kind of cynicism. I want to believe that, as a country, we have grown closer post-9/11, and that we can look past everything and come together for the sake of peace and stability. Then I see the politicians railing against equality, diversity, and drive while championing xenophobia, a widening income gap, and ignorance. They fancy themselves patriots. The patriots who fought for our country over 200 years ago (yes OUR country) were fighting for freedom and equality for all. How quickly the definition of patriotism has changed! This only fuels my cynicism. If you want to meet a patriot, talk to some of the first responders who didn’t ask those they saved if they were immigrants, followed a different faith from theirs, or worked in a different income bracket before deciding whether or not to save them.
Ten years later, and I’m still admittedly worried.
Ten years later, and I still mourn the loss of life.
Ten years later, what was Ground Zero–a smoldering pile of ashes, rubble, pain, and death–has slowly blossomed into something beautiful and full of hope. Even though I am in Manhattan very often, the last time I had visited Ground Zero was in 2008. It takes my breath away now, to see what has literally risen from the ashes. From 9/11 to now, we have been beating the terrorists everyday by living, building, and thriving. Yet we cannot truly win until we hearken to a more basic, but universal set of principles. That is to say, all are equal, and all should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Freedom, knowledge, and well-being are not objects that can or should be rationed, but rather, are undeniable facets of human nature that should be tapped, and never stifled for any reason.
This is probably the umpteenth article about how to handle the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, but it comes with my own experiences and perspectives on the matter. My apologies, but I do hope it does bring something new to the discussion.
The rumors about bin Laden’s death came to my attention while I was (perhaps ironically) watching The Killing yesterday. Prior to that, there were some rumbles in the Twittersphere of an impending, and seemingly impromptu address by the President set for later that night. My first instinct was that it was likely about the NATO operation in Libya, the only current event that would likely merit an announcement like that. Yet the bin Laden tweets started to gather steam, and news organizations too began to disseminate details of a recent operation in Pakistan that had ended with the death of bin Laden.
I was floored.
I was still in high school when the towers fell. I believed, perhaps naively at the time, that bin Laden would be captured within months of the mission in Afghanistan. However, the video and audio taunts and proclamations from bin Laden continued unabated for months, then years, as our collective attention began to shift elsewhere. The inability of the Bush administration to capture bin Laden slowly drifted into the realm of comedic fodder, where it comfortably remained. It was something out of a Benny Hill sketch: ludicrous and protracted. Even though we all wanted to see bin Laden brought to justice, the sheer length of time that passed–combined with our collective lack of an attention span–relegated bin Laden to the back burner.
Within minutes of the news breaking on Twitter, crowds swelled in front of the White House and at Ground Zero in New York City, everyone united in celebration and patriotism, cheering the death of another human being. Yes, this human being was, by all accounts, sub-human in his ruthlessness and willingness to take thousands of human lives and indoctrinate so many people into his odious and loathsome school of thought. His ideology was the product of so many life experiences: the mentorship of the Ayman Al-Zawahiri (who ascribes to the Wahhabi sect of Islam), the anger against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and, later, the American presence in the Middle East, and a sense of personal duty to right these supposed wrongs.
In a way, there is now a similar emotional climate to the period just following 9/11. At that time, people were rallying in solidarity and in unity against a common enemy: terrorism. Today, they are rallying in solidarity and in unity in seeming celebration of the death of the man who epitomized terrorism, and was responsible for the massacre of innocent lives on 9/11.
Part of me wanted to give in to the celebratory mood that had been generated in the wake of his death, but part of me recoiled in horror at the idea of celebrating the death of another human being, no matter how evil and deluded he may have been. I remembered how news outlets had streamed coverage of the jubilant reaction in parts of the Middle East at the news of the World Trade Center towers being brought down. I remember the collective rage many had felt at seeing others take joy in our devastation and loss. The unrelenting campaign in Afghanistan followed quickly after. Now the tables have been turned, and surely coverage of our celebration is being beamed abroad. While there are certainly many who will also find relief in bin Laden’s death, there are others who will be enraged.
It is important to remember that bin Laden’s death does not mean the death of Al Qaeda, or of terrorism as a whole. Zawahiri, it would seem, is still very much alive, as are hundreds, if not thousands of militants who fall under the umbrella of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other similar groups. While I applaud the successful efforts of Obama to finally bring down bin Laden, for him to say the world is safer is an absolutely short-sighted conclusion. I’d argue that it’s probably, at best, no more safe than it was before bin Laden was killed. Yet more likely than not, it is probably far less safe, as acts of retribution are of far greater concern. This means the wars will likely continue, and the security measures will continue to be stringent here, and abroad.
“Delusion arises from anger. The mind is bewildered by delusion. Reasoning is destroyed when the mind is bewildered. One falls down when reasoning is destroyed.” This is a verse from the Bhagavad Gita that rings true in many contexts, no less
in describing the psyche of bin Laden and others who promote terrorism. Islam is still regarded as the enemy by many, but it is delusion that is the true enemy. Bin Laden’s popularity remains strong because he was viewed as a religious man who fought in the name of Islam, in Afghanistan, and in other regions. The truth is that he likely only saw combat once in Afghanistan. The falsehoods and half-truths surrounding bin Laden’s life must be dismantled, to stop the perpetuation of the delusion that continues to fuel terrorist acts globally.
On the flip side, America–now perhaps more than ever–must do more to rid itself of lingering Islamophobia, also the function of misguided anger and delusion. We must do more to embrace Muslims, and frankly all peoples, who seek shelter within our shores. Tensions are very high now, and there must be more effort to truly reach out to the Islamic world, to undo the misconceptions sown by bin Laden and his ilk, and to foster cooperation in achieving common goals.
How can terrorism thrive in an environment where knowledge, friendship, and respect thrive? It can’t.
This should be our ultimate goal.
I just think back to high school, the day after that abysmal election day in 2000. My global history teacher at the time was bemoaning the results of the election, a sentiment shared by most if not all of us in the room. Al Gore had been robbed, and he worried out loud about the future of the country. He was right to worry.
Eight years later, we are teetering on the verge of a large recession (if not an outright depression), involved in two unpopular wars abroad, and lagging behind most of the world in education and healthcare. To paraphrase a line Chris Rock used in a recent interview, “A president has two jobs: maintain peace and make money. Is that so much to ask?” Dubya’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, did both. Dubya did neither.
Did Dubya achieve anything? Yes, it would be silly to say he was completely useless as a leader. One can’t really blame Dubya entirely for the problems we are mired in now, but he can still be blamed. Is he a bad person? No, but he was easily manipulated by those who were close to him. Ultimately, though, he will bear most of the flak. Under him, regulations flew out the window, and the market operated of its own accord. Under him, defense spending ballooned at the expense of other, more necessary spending for domestic programs. Under him, we lost our respect in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Tomorrow, Barack Obama will be inaugurated, ushering in a new administration. I hope the change he promised will materialize into legislation and decisions that will lift our country out of the ditch into which it has sunk. Hopefully he will right the wrongs that have gone unchecked for the last eight years. Hopefully we will return to peace and prosperity. Hopefully.
I am not professing to know all the little nuances about the situation in Afghanistan, but this is what I’ve been able to conclude overall:
Barack Obama had mentioned during the campaign that attention would be turned towards Afghanistan, which in his eyes, represents the greater threat compared to Iraq. While I am tempted to agree with him, I can only hope he doesn’t mean an all-out war. It looks that way, though, since there is a plan in place to double the number of troops in the area.
War is probably the worst idea for the area now.
Here’s how I see it:
Afghanistan is starting to see a resurgence in the strength and size of the Taliban. The Taliban has started to encroach on Pakistani regions that lie close to the Afghani border, and have experienced little to no resistance from the government. Pakistan, itself, is a powder keg waiting to explode. Not only is Afghanistan slowly being eaten inside-out by newly-resurrected Taliban forces on its western border, India has increased the deployment of troops to Pakistan’s eastern border in light of the horrific attacks on Mumbai. Couple that with the fact that the government reeks of impotence and corruption, it is a disaster waiting to happen. War will just hasten the pace at which the fuse burns, if not blow up the powder keg outright.
So what should the plan be?
Pakistan, I think, has neglected the Afghani border in favor of keeping troops stationed near the LOC, as well as further south along its border with India. Given India’s accusations of Pakistan’s involvement with the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, war on that front is still highly likely. Ultimately (as far as I see it) this mostly stems from continued struggle for control over the region of Kashmir. Barack Obama’s original suggestion to somehow, solve that problem in order to reduce the need for troops being deployed to that front is smart in theory, but cumbersome to implement. India will not part with Kashmir, and Pakistan will not go away empty-handed. Nonetheless, there need to be steps taken diplomatically, to bring some sort of peace to the area. This battle has gone on for too long.
There is no easy way to explain the rise of the Taliban. It seems to be a combination of the Afghani government’s inability to protect itself effectively in conjunction with steadily-brewing anti-American sentiment, owing to its continued campaigns in the region. More troops will probably not help solve the latter. We must be seen as peace brokers, not war mongers.
Ultimately if we are to exert any further influence in the area, it should be more in a consulting and humanitarian capacity. Yet it shouldn’t be about designing a pure democracy, but about designing a government that best serves the needs of the people. This includes not stacking up the upper echelons of government with known drug lords and saying the opium production problem will be addressed. That should have been enough of a sign that there are major issues that needed to be addressed with regard to the current government.
Opium production continues to remain astonishingly high, with its largest crop (8,200 tons) being produced in 2007 (according to the Washington Times). The Taliban presence and resilience has been closely linked to the drug lords associated with the rich opium trade out of Afghanistan. Finding an effective way to end the opium trade will cut a major artery that serves the Taliban’s growth.
The Afghani people are still hurting, and there are still many thousands of refugees who need shelter, food, and healthcare. We need to be able to show the Afghanis, and the world as a whole, that we use our status to help others in need, not to encroach on other nations’ territories and meddle in other nations’ issues. Maybe once we do that, there won’t be as pressing a need to raise generations of people to hate us. We need to shed the cowboy mentality that has dictated the last eight years of foreign policy.
So imagine starting another war in an area that is still recovering from the last one, and borders a nation that is itself, in a virtual spiral downward.
We can’t afford a war in that part of the world. It would be a disaster. Let’s throw aside our weapons and try diplomacy for once.
Here is the link to a site compiling posts from bloggers from around the world who oppose the doubling of troops in Afghanistan.
These were the words spoken by one of the captured terrorists implicated in the carnage that rocked Mumbai the last few days. His name is Azam Amir Kasab, a 21-year old from Pakistan. More importantly, he’s a 21-year old. What was I doing at 21? Studying, hanging out with friends, enjoying Ithaca, and planning my future, among other things. Kasab, at 21, had planned to die as he killed hundreds of people. Kasab narrated the whole story, with almost chilling nonchalance, according to an article by the Daily Mail.
“I was told to kill to my last breath,” he says, upon being asked about the details leading up to the massacre. Someone instructed him to take lives, as many lives as possible (the original goal was 5,000 in total), and take those lives until you have no life to live yourself. Someone, who presumably Kasab got to know pretty well if he and his fellow terrorists were “highly trained in marine assault,” something that requires presumably, a lot of time to do. That someone told him and the others to kill. That in itself is despicable. Yet to be told to kill to your last breath takes it to a whole new level. That someone knew these people were totally vested in the cause, and knew they would lay down their lives if need be. These people also happen to be young men, barely into their twenties, men who had barely started to live their own lives before being told to lay them down. That someone could see these men gleefully and passionately take lives as their own life left their lungs. That someone, or someones, are the real monsters here, not the ones who were cast out to kill and die. They are killers, but they are also victims.
It is so sad, how young people are being so readily recruited to kill in the name of some vague, greater good. It’s so sad how the angst and uncertainty of young adulthood is being exploited to turn them into killing machines. Blame, again, can’t be placed on Pakistan or on Muslims as a whole. For those of you who are placing the blame on their shoulders, you don’t really understand the issue. Yes, it seems that Pakistani Muslims were behind the attacks, but this is more the actions of a few, disillusioned fundamentalists, not the whole population. Unfortunately, fundamentalists get more air-time than the more moderate majority, and the media carries unbelievable influence. This is true not just for Muslims, but Hindus, and other groups.
Maybe it’s easier for me to say “lets just all be friends,” when many of my closest friends are Muslim and/or Pakistani. I have been to Eid services, and I have bowed my head as Arabic prayers were recited. They have attended pujas and bowed their heads when Sanskrit prayers were recited. We confide in each other, laugh together, cry together, dance together, sing together, and pretty much do everything together. Maybe it is easier because we are one generation removed from the conflicts of the motherland. Yet, even in spite of these attacks, have come together and become closer, united against senseless violence. We are people first, our allegiances should never make us forget that.
Rather than war against those who have hurt us, perhaps it is time to improve relations between India and Pakistan. Maybe then, kids on either side would be less likely to take up arms against their supposed enemies, especially if their supposed enemies were now their friends.
I’m thankful that this year has been going well for me, and I’m glad my family is healthy and happy. I’m glad my grandparents did not go anywhere near Colaba/Nariman Point today or yesterday, and that all my relatives in Mumbai are safe.
This Thanksgiving, give thanks for what you have, but pray for those who have lost, and those whose future is still uncertain. Pray that they may have a reason to give thanks soon.
So I have been through blogs like I have been through clothes, but I think this one stands a chance of both being relevant and surviving through an extended period of time. I’d like to first briefly introduce myself:
-My name is Saroj
-I am a graduate student.
-I am a lifelong New Yorker.
-I am Indian.
-I am an aspiring M.D.
-I am an aspiring writer.
-I am a Democrat.
-I am VERY opinionated, but I am open to hearing other opinions.
Anything beyond that would verge on dating profile territory, and is therefore irrelevant to the purpose of this blog. You will learn more about me as this blog grows, and perhaps learn a little about my point of view on a host of issues…for what it’s worth.
For those of you who have read my posts on Facebook about the presidential campaign, you know what you’re in for. I hope to expand to other topics ranging from economics to health and everything in between. In posting about such issues, I hope to generate constructive debate among different people hailing from different schools of thought. It is only through listening to and understanding the views of others that we can attempt to construct a better future that takes everyone’s needs into account, not just the needs of the few.
Obviously I am a student, and so I won’t be updating this blog on a daily basis, necessarily. However, if an issue catches my fancy, I will do my best to post something about it as soon as possible. In addition, please comment! I love reading what you all have to say about various subjects, and it seems that most of the time, I end up learning something new.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
P.S. You can reach me through a few other outlets:
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You get the idea.