I remember 9/11. I pay my tribute to the fallen.
I remember the terror. I remember the tragedies. I remember the hopelessness we saw that day. I remember how politicians and powerful Americans nakedly exploited the tragedy, and unleashed global violence.
I also remember the togetherness and resilience ordinary Americans showed that day. On that day, I renewed my hope for a different, forward-looking, peace-loving America.
I renew my call today to help build peace. I renew my call today to build an all-faith peace center at Ground Zero.
Here’s my personal 9/11 story.
On September 11, 2001, my daughter was on her fourth day at Stuyvesant High School, just a couple of blocks off the World Trade Center. She took the subway to Chambers Street station and walked from there, just the way she did it the days before. But it was anything but an ordinary day.
She saw the terror and hurt up close. She saw the towers going up in flames. She saw innocent people jumping off to death in panic and desperation. She then saw the towers crumbling.
My wife and I lost touch with her for the entire day. Then, finally, at ten at night she came back home — exhausted, and completely covered with ashes and dust and free-floating asbestos off the towers. We’ll live for the rest of our lives with fear that she might get some horrible disease from it.
To recap, under political pressure from then New York City and federal governments and a few influential parents, Stuyvesant reopened the school in a couple of weeks when the fire was still raging, and all other places except for Wall Street were closed due to health and safety reasons. For the next couple of years, we — a section of the school parents — staged protests on the street, demanding health and safety information for our children — with little success. Nobody paid attention.
The attacks on 9/11 were all too real for us. So I deeply understand why people want Ground Zero to be respected. I share that sentiment.
Finally, a word of wisdom that comes from reality. During the hateful, scary days after 9/11 when some of us were working on the ground attempting to save lives and dignity with our simple and inadequate resources, we often asked a question: “God forbid, what if there’s a second 9/11? Are we ready to prevent another series of assault and insult against the poor and vulnerable — many Muslims included?”
I want to revisit that question now.
So, what if there’s really a similar catastrophe on our soil — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or elsewhere? And God forbid, if that happens, is our still-divided, still-trustless society going to help save lives and dignity of the poor and vulnerable — many Muslims included? Is a mosque or Islamic center at Ground Zero going to wish away hate and violence on the unfortunate, near and far from it? Or, is it going to close down, for the fear of being another target, just the way a targeted group of people would desperately seek hide-outs?
This is not my America. This is not my daughter’s America.
What if we put our energy instead to build an all-faith, peace center on that sacred ground, where all Americans would be able to come and pray for global peace, inclusion, understanding and tolerance in America, and denounce hate and violence of any kind? That may not save lives lost in another hate crime. That may not save a poor Muslim or Sikh woman’s dignity violated by ignorant, hateful goons.
But wouldn’t an all-inclusive peace center be a perfect tribute to the thousands of innocent lives we lost on that calamitous day of September 11, 2001? It would also be a poignant mirror of the lives lost, representing a panoply of faiths and belief systems.
Come to think of it, that would be exemplary: The world would follow us again — this time, on peace, rejecting hate, violence and war.
In Honor for the Peace-loving American People,
Brooklyn, New York
P.S. –– All the photos above are taken from Siliconeer, a California-based South Asian magazine. The Progressive, noted American publication, also published an article I wrote on this subject. I’m sharing the links here.