I’ve started and restarted this piece several times over the last few days. I’ve tried to reconcile 9/11 with what was gained and lost over the years. Each time I would begin all I could think about were a handful of people.
- Shabbir Ahmed – Windows on the World Restaurant – my favourite place
- Mahammad Salahuddin Chowdhury – also at Windows of the World
- Eli Chalouh – worked for the State Department of Taxation
- Japhet Jesse Aryee – worked for the State Department of Taxation
- Carl John Bedigian – a New York City Firefighter
- James Arthur Greenleaf – ran the New York City Marathon, and a currency trader
As attempted to write each of those abandoned articles, I would see their faces, hear their voices, and remember conversations we had in the past. The memories were enough to give me pause and lost my train of thought.
Each one of them taught me something that has benefited me since I had first met them. The stores we would share, the lessons I learned, the wisdom I took from each. Then, I came to realize what I should write about, the common denominator each one of them had – the genuinely cared about everyone. Period.
After 9/11, after the shock, during the grief and before the incidents of hate, we had unity. It was after 9/11 that people began to care about those around them. We looked at everyone as family, regardless of who they were.
Communities, rivals, family members who haven’t spoken in years all came together to chip in, to help, to make sure everyone was doing the best they could.
There were groups of people giving blood. Other groups were feeding first responders and those who found themselves not able to cope had a solder to cry one, an ear to listen. We stopped and checked in on the older members of our communities; we held prayer vigils. We gathered, often in complete silence, just so we could be with someone, anyone, so we wouldn’t have to be alone.
Each of those who I considered friends, who were suddenly no longer with us, all would have said the same thing – don’t mourn for me, don’t grieve for me, hold on to what you’ve now found. What we found was ourselves.
We found out that deep down, regardless of colour, religion, national origin, we are all the same. We are all human, all one race. We were together.
Then, anger and hate began to set in.
Members of our newfound, unified community began to attack Muslims living in this country. Masjids were burned, people attacked.
A friend of mine, Muhammad Tariq Adnan, who was in his seventies, was attached for nothing more than being a Muslim. His attackers didn’t know the difference between his being Sufi and wanting nothing more than world peace. No, all his attackers saw was a Muslim.
Another Friend, Moshe Greenblatt, a Modern Orthodox Jew, was attacked. He was believed to a Muslim. Those who attacked him couldn’t tell the difference between him and those who carried out the attacks.
Those acts of hate, after 9/11, placed this country on a dangerous course. By and large, we no longer want to get to know the stranger in our neighbourhood. We see a man in a blue turban and beard, and we collectively think he is a Muslim, a terrorist and not the Sikh that he is.
More and more often when a white person sees a group of African American teenagers walking towards them on the sidewalk the first impulse is to hug your purse tighter, cross the street or rest your hand on the butt of your firearm out of fear.
When we see that groups of Hispanics who want to come to this country, we no longer see people who want a better life for their families, their children or themselves. No, we only see the potential thief, rapist or gang member.
Those terrorists, those nineteen cowards who bordered those four aircraft sought to disrupt the fabric of America and strike fear into our hearts, had no idea that they would have won that battle. They had no idea that their actions would divide communities, cause racism and xenophobia to bloom, and make us suspicious of everyone different. That’s just what happened.
Here we are, eighteen years later, and the divides begun that day have continued to widen. The wound has festered and is now decaying. We have lost the unity and community we found in the wake of 9/11, and it seems as if very few people are even interested in finding peace any longer.
Shabbir, Mahammad, Japhet, Carl and Eli would not like what we have become. They would want to hold on to the united we found after their deaths. They would have wanted us not to hate those in our community who are different than us. They would not have wanted to hand those nineteen cowards this victory.