Photo Courtesy: Daily Express (one time, academic, non-profit use)
An Islamist fanatic yesterday drove his van, and ran over eight innocent people to death, in broad daylight in Manhattan. It happened close to where terrorists blew up Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, and killed thousands of men and women.
Sometimes, we are so stunned by violence and terror that it freezes us. We don’t want to function. We don’t want to wake up from bed. Worse, we don’t want to think. Yet, thinking is the most precious, God-given power we have when something like this happens.
One month ago, a white terrorist man used his weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and killed 58 innocent people in Las Vegas. But American media neither called him a terrorist, nor was there any serious discussion on the dark-age gun violence across this country. Big politicians, particularly those supporting Trump and National Rifle Association (NRA), asked us not to “politicize” on the genocide. Now, after the New York terror, their rhetoric has changed 180 degrees.
When in June of 2015, Dylan Roof, a 21-year-old, self-proclaimed white supremacist killed nine innocent black worshipers in a South Carolina church, media neither emphasized on his white supremacist rhetoric, or his use of the gun to kill. They hardly mentioned that he worshiped Hitler, and repeatedly said he believed whites were superior race, and that blacks deserved to die.
Yesterday, here in New York where we live, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, the suspected Islamic terrorist with a possible ISIS connection chanted “Allahu Akbar,” and ran over eight innocent people with his truck. And it is getting explosive media coverage everywhere. Trump is talking about sending the perpetrator to Guantanamo Bay, and talking about much more repressive measures to “deal with terrorism” his way.
I have no problems to condemn this gruesome violence, or with the way media is covering the act of violence 24/7. But then, there is a serious problem built in the way big media and big politicians cover, exclude or undermine other acts of terror. It creates more hate against Muslims and the religion of Islam per se, even though that hate is politically motivated by the people in power — to divert attention from other critical issues relating to our lives. Look at the way Trump is capitalizing today on the NYC violence. And he has his Fox TV, his New York Post, and his Alt-Right, and his racist radio talk show hosts on his side.
Most people — whether American, Indian, or European — don’t have the awareness, information, or analysis to understand this serious dichotomy and double standards in media coverage, or the way populist politicians such as America’s Trump or India’s Modi capitalize on such barbaric acts of violence, and create more division, hate, repression, or war. And they exploit on this very deep ignorance and political illiteracy.
Since 9/11/2001, when we saw the Twin Towers blow up right in front of our eyes, the world has become a very different place. I call it the Era of Post Reason. The 1%, their corporations, politicians, and media have successfully managed to make sure we the 99% do not use our reasoning power anymore. They have made us push back into a time when ordinary people fought against each other, hated each other, and bit off food from each other’s hands.
Unless we come up with a viable strategy to come together, and actively engage ourselves into thinking, reasoning, and analyzing — to realize who are doing the violence and war, why they are doing it, and how they are making the world a more violent, divided, hateful place — only to the benefit of the extremely rich and powerful people at the top, it is a lose-lose situation for all of us.
I hope we reflect on the causes of terror, violence, repression, and war, and bring ourselves back to the time, when reasoning was a normal, natural, intelligent human way of life.
Not that fifteen years of 9/11 is anything different from fourteen years, or sixteen. It is just a number.
For those who lost their loved ones on that fateful day here in New York, their pain and sorrow will remain exactly the same. We — those who were lucky not to go through their traumas — will not understand how intense their bereavement is.
I personally know at least five or six different friends and families who have never been able to escape from their loss. They have done their best to move on. Some of them have moved on, assuming tasks that others would not have the courage or energy to perform.
But unlike them, a vast number of Americans have not been able to understand peace. They have not tried to understand the reasons behind terrorism, and they have not tried to understand the global game of war, repression and economic exploitation, promoted and perpetuated by war corporations, military complexes, their politicians, think tanks, and media. They have misplaced their anger, and the war-mongering people in power have made this world a much more dangerous and violent place to live, much more so than what it was before 9/11/2001.
What we see in ISIS, Boko Haram, Jamat Islami or other extremist-terror groups now, we could not even imagine them until we began to hear about Taliban or Al Qaeda, really after the 9/11 terror took place. Yet, no serious media or government discussion happened ever as to explain where these groups came from, who gave them funding, political and military support, and how these terror groups recruited so many young men and women — people who are ready to kill any number of innocent people, anywhere in the world?
It is extremely unlikely that Hillary Clinton, if and when elected president, will do anything different from what Obama has done over his eight years. And on the other hand, Donald Trump who is perhaps not going to be the next U.S. president (I do hope not), will unleash new reign of global warfare, causing massive, new bloodshed. A pro-peace Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein candidacy is now a dream vanished in thin air, thanks to the manipulative election game in the U.S., one that few people understand or pay attention to.
On the home front, within America, hate crimes are on the rise again. Even here in New York City, a so-called safe refuge for immigrants, just in the past couple of weeks, two Muslim priests were shot and killed, followed by a sixty-year-old Muslim woman knifed to death. Their belongings were not taken, and they were all wearing traditional garbs, making it all but certain that these were acts of hate crime.
In Bengali, we pronounce it Eedulfitor. The monthlong fast of Ramadan just ended. Of course, we Bengalis call Ramadan Romjan. Ha ha: we and our flat-tongue elocution.
We also call Muslims Musalman, Jews Eehudi, and Christians Khrishtaan.
I love my Muslim friends. I really do. And I am a Hindu who grew up with RSS and BJP, Hindu fundamentalists in India. In fact, before I came out of their clutches, I was the West Bengal state secretary of ABVP, their student wing. My father is a lifelong, hardcore whole-timer of RSS, and has known their stalwarts personally — like former Indian prime minister Vajpayee.
That was then. This is now.
I have some Muslim friends that are like my sisters and brothers. They have been with me — in thick and thin, rain or shine, or here in America as they say, in snow and ice — for many years. They have stayed with me, supported me, indulged me, loved me, and even scolded and chastised me when they saw my incoherence and indiscretion.
A Muslim brother published my Bengali memoir online — week after week. The first couple of people who first thought my Facebook rambling about my life could actually merit a well-done book included a Muslim doctor-cum-journalist, whom I first met in California. A Muslim sister, who married a Hindu brother, published it as a book. We first met in Calcutta.
A Muslim brother from Dhaka published my collection of political essays on 9/11 and terror. Another Muslim brother from Pakistan, who suddenly passed away in October, 2015, first told me that I needed to know black America well, and since then, I’ve done it, and found his advice invaluable. I love my black brothers and sisters too.
A few Muslim sisters gave me the opportunity to teach Bengali at a weekend school here in New York. A few Muslim brothers and sisters first told me that I should record my Tagore songs, before I lost my singing voice completely. A Muslim brother helped me to buy our Brooklyn home from another Muslim brother, and also helped me to travel Bangladesh for the first time. A Muslim sister took me from Dhaka to her home in rural Kumilla, and showed me the famous Bengal rivers Padma and Meghna. She also showed me the place in Kumilla, where rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote some of his famous songs.
I never knew Muslims until I taught at a rural, remote college in India, just a few years before I came to America. For over twenty years, my knowledge about Muslims was practically zero. I had two Musalman friends in the Scottish Church Collegiate School in Calcutta: I wrote about one of them in my memoir (and the hatred I had developed against him only because he was a Musalman). The other acquaintance was a privileged one: my tabla teacher Chitto Ray’s mentor was the celebrated artiste Ustad Keramat Ullah Khan, whom I met once at his Calcutta home. Of course, I never had anything other than goosebump-reverence for Muslim maestros such as Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, or Ustad Bismillah Khan. But I never considered them as Muslims in the first place.
The first time I got to know Muslims is, as I said, when I started teaching in a very rural, island college in West Bengal. I had the privilege to know those co-professors, students, and support staff. Some of them have become lifelong friends, ever since.
I have worked the best possible way to help Muslim brothers and sisters and children during the dark days after 9/11, when U.S. powers were yanking them out of their homes at gunpoint, and jailing and deporting them en mass, destroying their work, dreams, and civil liberties. I did my best to be on their side when hate crimes were destroying their lives. I did not do it alone: in fact, I consider myself a foot soldier in the fight that many of us fought together, and a fight that many of them are still fighting tirelessly.
I do not like Muslim women wearing borkha (or hijab) since they are in their childhood. I do not like the fact that a large section of otherwise nonviolent, innocent Muslims are becoming even more conservative than they ever have been, and falling prey to mullah and secretive mosques (clarification: not all mosques are secretive: in fact, very few of them are). I do not like the fact that many educated, liberal Muslims are not coming out strongly enough against the savage Islamic terrorists like Taliban, Qaeda or today’s IS, and against their barbarism, murders, rapes, and enslavement. I do not like the fact that many Indian Muslims would not abide by a secular, non-religious Indian constitution (but take advantage of all the secular benefits) — yes I know some of my BJP-RSS friends would jump up in joy. The brave widow Shah Bano’s watershed civic lawsuit for alimony and compensation was sabotaged by Muslim orthodoxy and a corrupt and scandalous, liberal Indian government.
Fake liberalism, rotten corruption, extreme greed, and scandalously inefficient governance — in India, USA, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and elsewhere — have made fanatics even more powerful than ever before. Without at all supporting their violence and savagery and oppression on women and other minority, I know what extreme frustration it can cause when you and your family and children have to go through generations of neglect, undermining, inequality, injustice, and ridicule — with no light seen at the end of the tunnel. That made even many otherwise ordinary and naive Muslims anti-government and anti-1%. With help from divisive domestic and international forces, it turned some of them violent, and some of the violent became terrorists.
I have written a lot about the above in my book In the Belly of the Beast: Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India. This is my analysis, and I keep expanding it all the time, with new, earned knowledge and experience. The one percent and their economic savagery are responsible for creation of the religious savages.
On this beautiful, peaceful, happy day of Eid, I invite all my Muslim brothers and sisters to reflect on the current state of affairs, and send a message of solidarity across the globe that would forge peace and togetherness, and defeat both the global, economic savages, as well as global, religious savages.
Together, together, we can create and sustain a society that can find a peaceful, violence-free, terror-free, oppression-free, war-free, equal world.
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.
I had a realization early this morning. A simple realization. And I wanted to share that with you.
I thought about the election here in New York City today, with the backdrop of 9/11. Are they connected? Are they not?
Let’s talk about the mayoral election first. Today is the primary election — to select one among the candidates each party put up. Basically, in New York City, Democratic candidate who wins today with 40% majority vote is the candidate to win the November final election. Today is that important.
There must be a real choice for ordinary, hardworking New Yorkers and their families and children this time, as opposed to media- and corporation-sponsored elections we’ve seen in the past twelve years. We need democracy that New York was known for, and not this fake democracy and plutocracy for the extreme rich and powerful.
I woke up at 4 A.M. this morning to help with election duty, even though I knew that perhaps 5 or 10% would vote in these primaries (as usual), and the other 90% would not. On one hand, I felt that was because people were disenchanted with the election system in the first place. On the other, I knew the 5 or 10 percent New Yorkers voting today would be in the leadership position — one way or the other — to help put this fake democracy back in the direction of the ordinary people.
Stolen elections and bought off elections have cheated us New York’s working people, families, labor unions, immigrants, poor women, blacks and the vast underclass for twelve years. It is time we rose up and seized the political power. Time to drive the economy back and away from the 1 percent — to the 99 percent.
I went to help out on election duty this morning at 4 A.M. I saw obscure figures walking by in the darkness. No, they were not walking to their polling stations. They were already off to work — jumping over potholes, bypassing smelly sidewalks and riding dilapidated subway trains. This was not a different day for them.
Only if we could include and involve and inspire them in this democracy, one the rich and powerful stole away from us. If we could, there would be a completely nonviolent revolution. There would be democracy.
I’m still hoping.
Now, what does it have to do with 9/11 and the terrorism and tragedies? Is there a connection?
Is there not? Think about it.
Let’s take the position of New York City mayor. This person can educate an entire generation about the ills of terror, the global history behind it, the obnoxious way New York City government and powerful people handled it, the way they silenced opposition and dissenting voices who were crying foul about the manufactured news surrounding the terrorism and the social, health and environment fallout, and much more.
The tragedies of 9/11 helped the rich and powerful of New York and the entire country of USA to steer away real debates on education, employment, immigration, labor, environment, health and society and economy in general. Corporate media helped the rich and powerful, and took advantage of a vulnerable nation, flouting all norms and ethics of democracy. Their purposefully misplaced priorities have made the rich richer, and poor poorer. They made the powerful even more powerful, flouting all decency and laws.
New York City and the rest of the country keep reeling with more unemployment, more imprisonment, more deportations, more hate crimes, more gun violence, more police brutality, more failing schools, more street potholes and more smelly subways. Prices have gone through the roof. The poor and middle class can’t afford to live in the city. Yet, at the same time, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Wall Street and war and oil and food and real estate industries have become wealthiest in history. Stock markets have boomed in the past few years — when the rest of the country was suffocating with job losses, home losses, deaths and despair.
It is a strange, uncanny, ghost-like economic system. Things are happening without our knowledge, and the one percent is making decisions, using you and me as election pawns.
Further, as far as terrorism and tragedies, the rich and powerful here in New York and America have not learned any lessons from the tragedies of 9/11. There is no preparedness — political, economic or psychological for future catastrophe.
Other than the Kafkaesque phone and Internet and camera spying on citizens and residents, that is.
Observing with Care,
Brooklyn, New York
P.S. — By the way, last night we got at least two dozen calls from candidates running for various NYC positions. We felt so happy that they finally remembered us, even though four years too late. Thank you, candidates. You do value democracy — at least on the night before elections.
For those who need more clarification about this blog below (especially after some questions I got about my purpose to write it — with the “dirty” words and everything): the point of this article is that, this is how many otherwise decent people (because of their own prejudice without first-hand knowledge and stereotype in corporate media) paint poor workers, even though these workers keep the economic machine running day and night, and the privileged (such as me) take advantage of their hard work, sweat and blood, and often behind-the-scene, 24/7 efforts. Very few of us appreciate what they do for us, and how they do it. This slant, ridicule and denigration now turned out to be a global phenomenon: work and workers are generally looked down upon. Media especially here in the U.S. rarely paint a positive picture about our workers and their enormous contribution. Working men and women — especially the blue collar and poor workers — are almost always taken for granted. Their hardship, pain and struggle are rarely mentioned.
This post is a response to the name calling and stereotyping — written with a sarcastic flavor. I do not ever want to hurt the feelings of these workers, their families, or anybody else. I apologize if somebody gets hurt: it could be my wrong word choice. But I wrote it this way on purpose — to drive a point home.
I have worked with American workers for many years now. All I wrote here is from real-life experiences I gathered in bits and pieces at various places and opportunities to meet, teach and work with these unsung heroes.
Can You Believe that? Geez…!
I met a bunch of American workers. Lazy, illiterate, fat, foul-mouth, stinky American workers.
Those parasites! No work and big pay. Lifelong life support by our no-good big government.
I didn’t spare no words. I gave them a mouthful.
I said, “Hey! Come! Look at this photo (worker in hard hat taking a nap on his tractor). This guy is sleeping on the job. And that too, on his CAT.” I said, “I mean, how stupid this jerk is! Would you believe! He could be squashed and killed between those big wheels.”
I said, “this guy is what you are all about, you know? Lazy. Idiot. Illiterate. Don’t get it between good and bad. Don’t you see?”
They didn’t protest for once. Good, I said. How could they protest? What could they say? They didn’t say a word. Ha! What can they say, I said. They were busy eating their lunch. One guy even finished his bologna sandwich and coke, climbed up his pickup truck, and lied down by a bunch of garbage-filled plastic bags — on a piece of plastic — with his stupid, dirty jeans on. Another guy got into his parked Ford Taurus, and started takin’ a nap in the back seat. He started snoring after just half a minute, right in front of my eyes!
So uncivilized, I said. Not only they’re lazy and stupid, but they got no manners too! They’re snoring in public!
Lazy! Fat! Overeaten! Overdrunk! Can’t do no job without taking a big break.
And do you know how much money they earn? A big, fat bundle. I didn’t ask, but I know they make big bucks.
I know they’re all overpaid.
I also heard that they wake up everyday at 4 A.M., get out to work at 5, and in the evening they even go to school. Some labor college, they said. And their union pays for their college. See, that’s the other problem. Why do you waste so much time going to some no-name college? I know many of us didn’t go to college. We’re doing okay. Why can’t you?
Wake up at 4? Why? Like, is there a special reason you need to get up so early? You don’t show up to work until 9. And then you take a break at 12…and take a nap too!
And think about these rich, fat unions? Think how much money they have! No wonder they have so much power. Money and muscle. Isn’t that what American labor unions stand for? All fat liars and crooks.
Makes me sick!
Those stupid plumbers. Man, they smell so bad! And they tell such filthy stories.
I saw them once. And I saw them all. Man, these people are really dirty! And oh yes, they’re really stupid.
I knew it all along.
So, I met a bunch of plumbers in Long Island City, Queens, and in ten minutes into meeting them, I know why people do such cartoons about’em. I mean, look, there’s a reason for it. They tell such filthy stories and say such filthy jokes!
And they smell so bad! Now, why in the world do those plumbers smell so bad especially when they’re on the job?
Like, just ten minutes into our meeting, one guy started telling his buddies how they were forced to work on some Goddamn thirty seventh floor of some Goddamn Manhattan building with no bathroom anywhere, and they were on an emergency twelve-hour shift, and they had to pee in a bucket. And then the other guy said he saw a coworker shitting in a plastic bag and stuff! I mean, WTFH, don’t they have no shame? He said there was no bathroom, the water was turned off for their big plumbing work, and the elevator was shut off, so they had no other choice.
I said, oh, man! I said, no man!
I said, yeah right! So, why don’t you stop overstuffing yourself with so much food and drink so much Heineken on the job? I mean, if you knew there would be no proper place to pee, why do you have to keep drinking your booze all the time?
They said they didn’t drink beer on the job. But I knew they were lying in a straight face. They drink, they smoke, and they do stuff you can’t even imagine!
These people were not just foulmouthed, smelly plumbers, they were big liars too.
No wonder people have such bad impression about American workers. Just look at the cartoon. You’ll know.
I saw a handful. And I saw them all.
And, why would people go into that stinky plumbing job in the first place?
Asbestos Removal: What Bullshit!
I then met a bunch of asbestos guys. Man, what bullshit they give you 24/7. As if your life depends on their stupid asbestos abatement! I just laughed and laughed hearing their crap.
So, they dress up like astronauts…you know…the guys landing on the moon and stuff! I mean, just look at them…don’t they look funny!
They said they were removing asbestos flying in the air in some old, dilapidated building in East Brooklyn. Now, why in the world do you have to wear those stupid clothes? And what are those on your face…are you ghostbusters or something? Gosh, don’t get me started!
They said asbestos was so dangerous that unless removed properly, it could cause lung cancer and all…in your lungs. You can cough blood doing asbestos work. And you can like…die. Yeah, right! So, wear a white filter paper cap on your face and cover up your nose. Worried about your hair? Cover it up! Use a pair of rubber gloves. Don’t talk while your work, right? Nothing can get in unless you breathe it in! Take a shower when you get back home.
See, this is how they really jack up the price tab on the employer and then force them to buy those fancy suits and masks and stuff. Respirator, negative pressure pump, HEPA filter, three-layered plastic, loads of duct tape, helmet, amended water and all those expensive items. Then, the special landfill. I mean, gimme a break. I know what you’re doing: you’re blasting your employer and your contractor with a huge bill. And then you’ll charge us big bucks too. Don’t think for a moment we don’t get that.
I know how you do it, make big money, and then get those pols to pass laws to save your little white, black or brown asses. I mean, who cares about what the employer sacrifices for you? Nobody!
How many people actually died of asbestos black lung…just tell me?
Many? Thousands? Since when? Where?
Here in the U.S.? Cananda? China? India?
Not here in the USA, no siree. Not here. We always took good care of our workers.
And they never complained too. And never showed us those OSHA, EPA and HEPA stuff.
Enough is enough!
Parasites. No work. Lazy. Big breaks. Stupid jokes. Still get lifelong support by our no-good, big government.
I’m going to tell you three of my own, honest-to-God, real-life, personal, New York City stories of live-together with racism and stereotype. Or, you can call it something else. It’s your choice.
I simply titled it Laugh 2 because I called the most recent story I told you Laugh 1. These three stories are so dry, down ‘n dirty, straightforward and unfunny that you might start suspecting my basic literary prowess. Heck, I seriously doubted it myself when I went through those little experiences; in fact, when they happened — one event at a time with a gap of a couple of years in between — the only thought that came to my mind was how to save my little brown Indian butt, and go home with a non-disfigured face (or in one instance, go home at all).
And I didn’t laugh.
I just thank God I did not become a post-9/11 FBI or NYPD statistic of hate-crime victims (or in one instance, a permanently disappeared U.S. citizen). I just hope and pray to God that, however insignificant my scare was compared to the grotesque, horrific, nightmarish and bone-chilling experiences so many people I know have gone through, none encounter experiences even as small as mine. I don’t know about you the rough, tough and diehard, man, I nearly peed in my pants. And a grassroots, 9/11 community organizer turned immigrant and labor advocate, I am not particularly known as a wimp.
How do I rank these stories? There is no way I could do that. So, like they write experiences on the resumé with the most recent cited first, I’m going to tell you my stories with the most recent one first. Is it the most stand-out one? Not sure. I leave it up to you to decide on the poignancy indicator of it.
Let’s just cut to the chase. I’ll be brief.
So, about this time last year, on one late morning on a slow, sunny, early fall day, I was waiting on a downtown NYC subway platform for the E train. I was going to college to teach an afternoon class. I had my trademark brown backpack on my brown back, I had a light jacket on, and I also had my hands in my coat pockets.
A woman — she was likely watching over me for some time — walked up to me, just before the train arrived. She smiled strangely at me, and said, “You’re not carrying a gun on you, are you?” Then she gestured at my hands in my pockets, and smiled again, as if she actually had doubts if I was carrying a hidden gun.
I was so surprised by the suddenness of it that I didn’t know what to say. First I thought she was just joking, however bad and stupid the joke was. But then I realized she was serious. The train came and she and I boarded the train; I now felt quite annoyed that she kept looking at me and my brown skin and my “Islamic-terrorist-looking” face and beard (she didn’t know I was an American Hindu, involved with the American peace movement, and preached global non-violence all my life). I realized she was quite nervous by the possibility that either my backpack or my jacket could indeed carry a gun. And then she walked up to me and repeated her question: “You don’t have a gun on you, do you?”
I had a little interaction with her after that — a non-violent one — and it was lucky I only had one station to ride on the E train. But that one-station, three-minute ride was more than enough. It was pretty long.
I am not CNN or Fox or some tabloid paper, and I don’t mean to make too much of a big deal out of it. But I’ve actually thought about the incident quite a bit afterwards, and in hindsight, I believe it could’ve been much worse under a slightly different set of circumstances.
Think about the incident happening on a Greyhound bus or maybe, a commuter train (I’m excluding airplanes because they’d have body scans and all). I very likely “look like an Islamic terrorist” with my brown skin and pronounced beard based on the profiling and flagging they’d had on countless innocent Muslims, South Asians and Arabs since 9/11. What if this crazy woman walked up to me there, challenged me if I had a gun in my backpack (remember my NYPD-NYCLU bag search lawsuit story?), and then perhaps called the “see-something-say-something” police? I know people who were picked up by the police and FBI and other law enforcement on such charges by “responsible American citizens.” I also know of at least one real-life story a young Sikh friend from New Jersey told me where a busload of Americans started heckling him on his way back home from Philadelphia, called him Osama, and followed him off the bus to the public bathroom, and threatened to beat him up black and blue.
Any of the above could’ve happened to me. That was really the scary part.
Glad in this case, it was “small and significant.” And I came back home in one piece to report it on Facebook the same night.
It’s a simple thought. In fact, it’s a very simple thought. I’ll tell you what it is. Just give me twenty…thirty seconds.
The thing is, when I launched this blog some two weeks ago, I promised to my readers and friends, and also to myself, that I shall write about heartfelt, honest feelings; I said I’d write about life and love — in a soft, toned-down way. I did it as best as I could; honestly, I didn’t worry how many people read my posts, or whether or not my simple messages reached the five senses of the people higher up: those who could make a difference. Out of their five senses, I knew I could never pierce their remarkably thick skin; so I didn’t even try it.
But the pleasant surprise was that more than twelve hundred people read my blog in just over two weeks — something that never happened to me in my relatively new life of an activist writer. I was gratified to know that a large number of people still did care: very likely, they cared about the transparency and real-life, raw emotions I’m trying to pass on to them.
They agreed that it was indeed a matter of the heart.
I’d like to take a moment to thank you all for your interest in what I have to say. With your support, I hope to continue saying it.
So, now, what is that simple thought? What does it have to do with the present topic?
I posted a question on my Facebook page two days ago. It was this: “Are we more educated, informed and mature — can we now save more lives and human dignity?”
It was not a rhetorical question. It was not an academic question. It was not a question about any particular country either — U.S. or India, the two countries I know. I asked that question taking into account the evolution of human race, if we can measure it in such a short time, since the terrorist attacks and their aftermath global un-democracy, violence and war.
I have actually thought about it quite a bit. But I wanted to know from my friends who I thought would want to address it too. Some of the responses I got were as follows:
(1) “If “we” means Americans, the answer is a flat and emphatic NO..”
(2) “How come we need to be ‘more educated, informed and mature’ to save more life?”
(3) “”More”… relative adj. “More” than what/who/when??? As to whether we can now save more lives and dignity? I believe we can. Whether we do or not is another question entirely.”
Okay. Fair enough. People have different ways to express themselves, and sometimes without knowing it, people take a superficially different point of view when they’re actually in agreement with each other (believe me!). Sometimes I feel that through my writing, I’m raising debates on one hand (and making people uneasy and uncomfortable that way…sorry about that); and on the other hand, I’m playing the role of a moderator of the debate so as not to let it out of our hands. After all, if we can’t agree on things we so deeply care about, even within our own circle of friends, then how in the world are we going to impress them upon the others who do not know us and have every right to pay no attention?
Cliches and Cacophony
The terrorist attacks of September 11 killed 3,000 people, and changed our lives forever — yes, that’s a cliche. Don’t tell me I’m not being respectful to the innocent lives lost on that day; if you do, adios amigos, I’ll see you next time. (By the way, I just found out that the labor unions I work with lost 17 of their members: half of them doing construction and electrical work that morning on the 105th floor of the North Tower).
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave global war mongerers great ammunition to pursue their global fascist agenda — yes Das Capital’ists, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, we’ve heard you.
There are many real-life stories that media did not tell us — stories of how thousands of ordinary, innocent people fell victims of a repressive regime, and either perished in jail or got deported. — See, this is somewhat less known, but not that completely unknown now, thanks to the 24/7 hard work of hundreds of progressive organizations, lawyers and grassroots activists. And small, alternative media deserve credit too.
Muslims, Arabs and South Asians (including Sikhs) as well as other poor immigrants were target of heinous hate crimes, and some of them were brutally assaulted; a few of them actually died. — In case those big-name diversity, rights and justice groups did not tell you about it before, yours truly did it already, a number of times over. Reading his blog for the first time today? Welcome. Just flip through some recent posts.
So, what is new? What is NOT news yet?
Talk to Your Heart
Again, because I promised my blog this time around would be simple, soft and succint, I don’t mean to make it a long-winded, complex, lawyer’s argument, even though I put it out for my jury to release their verdict on it (FYI, as of today, only my Facebook itself has 2800+ friends, and that number doesn’t even include my six cousins and three brothers in-law).
So, simply put one more time, “Are we more educated, informed and mature — can we now save more lives and human dignity?”
What do you think?
Q. Who provided the necessary education since 9/11 that taught us how to be tolerant and respectful to all men, women, transgenders, religions, atheists, agnostics, Sikhs, Muslims, Africans, Jews and Latino immigrants (especially those who still “look like a terrorist” even after they were forced by their “American” employer to shave off their beard)?
Q. Who provided the necessary information after-the-fact that if you built very tall, arrogant towers at the end of an island, and that too, without any common-sense safeguards to prevent them from airborne terrorist attacks, it’s likely that terrorists would take advantage of that illiteracy and egotism of the people in power, and try their best to destroy them? (After all, just like pickpockets and muggers, terrorists are constantly watching out for easy preys while the easy preys are not watching out for them?)
Q. Who gave us and our children the maturity lessons that would help us and our children to be a little more mature than believe that what is norm and acceptable in a high-school brawl situation does not really apply to global civilization, and that it’s neither norm nor acceptable to use phony stories and hearsays (like, Judith Miller’s WMD stories published in mighty New York Times) to attack a foreign country, kill thousands of innocent men, women and children, and destroy a five-thousand-year-old civilization?
Q. Human dignity…now that’s a complex question. Some of my Facebook friends might ask: “How come we need to be ‘more educated, informed and mature’ to preserve human dignity?”
Follow-up Q. In fact, what is human dignity?
We’ll save that question for the next post. Please consider the other simple clauses of this rather simple non-lawyer’s argument, and deliver your valued judgement. I wouldn’t mind a severe sentence…punishment…like…long-term imprisonment…in your thoughts. All my life, I’m looking for those flung-open, skylark-sung prison camps.
In the wake of 9/11, media found frenzy interviewing families who lost their loved ones in the terrorist attacks. Media printed stories and aired interviews with 9/11 mothers, wives, sisters, fathers and brothers. They described heartbreaking accounts of a newly wed wife, or a soon-to-be wed fiancé, or an expectant mother. All were necessary stories: people in America and people all over the world came to know the harrowing details of the impacts of this grotesque barbarism.
Then, media moved on and began telling stories of some 9/11 family members who took up on a mass-manufactured political angle of the tragedies: they were vociferous for their support for revenge and the so-called war on terror. They expressed strong support for domestic repression and round-up of hundreds of thousands of innocent people who had absolutely nothing to do with violence or terror. Ashcroft’s USA PATRIOT Act came in handy; the phony Weapons of Mass Destruction story mass-cloned by Judith Miller and colonized media gave Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld much-needed ammunition to justify mass murder thousands of miles away.
In the middle of this melee, a small, new organization started their work that nobody noticed. They named their new, under-resourced group September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Through our activist work with New York Civil Liberties Union, I came to know some of these mothers, sisters and wives. I was blown away to see the unknown side of America.
I met Adele Welty, I met Valerie Lucznikowska, and I met Talat Hamdani. I came to know a whole new world. I came to know an America — one that nobody talks about, and nobody knows about.
Adele Welty’s son Timothy was one of the firefighters who responded to the SOS from the burning World Trade Center on that fateful day. He and his colleagues went up Tower Two to save lives. City officials misdirected them, as they’d misdirected many others, and told them it would be okay to walk up the stairs of the burning building. Tim and hundreds of New York’s brave firefighters went in to pull the panic-stricken people out. In a few minutes, Tower Two crumbled to the ground like a pack of cards. I heard that Tim’s body was never recovered.
I met Adele the first time when I was speaking across New York City against post-9/11 hate crimes. At one such mid-Winter meeting at Columbia University compound, New York Civil Liberties Union’s Udi Ofer and South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow’s Deepa Iyer — both activist lawyers — introduced me to a frail woman, still in mourning, perhaps in her sixties. Adele came to speak at that meeting, to show her support for peace and opposition against hate. I was overwhelmed to see her strength, courage and resilience. She spoke about her beloved son who gave his life to save others. She did not seek revenge. She didn’t believe in arrogant America’s “tooth for a tooth, eye for an eye” doctrine. Instead, with a few other 9/11 parents and widows, she joined the grassroots, progressive group.
For nearly ten years, Adele and her group became an important and active part of America’s humanity, working tirelessly to promote peace and oppose violence and war of any kind. Adele traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq many times when the war was in full swing, and spoke to government officials and peace organizations. Then she spent years crisscrossing the USA and, along with colleagues from Peaceful Tomorrows and other groups, met with senior politicians in Washington, D.C. Her group worked with us on the issue of human rights for immigrant workers and their children. On one trip to Washington (as the executive director of New Jersey Immigration Policy Network), I went with her to lobby U.S. congress members to support the DREAM Act, a pending law that would provide tuition benefits to children of undocumented immigrants – children who came to the USA with their parents at a young age, went through the American school system, passed high school, but now couldn’t attend college because of their immigration status. They didn’t know any other country; most of them didn’t speak any language other than English; they had been in America their entire life. Now their dreams and aspirations to go to college were dashed, and they didn’t have a clue about it beforehand; nobody had warned them. At that round of meetings in Washington’s Capitol Hill, I had a precious opportunity to interact with Senator Edward Kennedy briefly. We had a long meeting with his immigration staff. Senator Kennedy was one of the prime sponsors of the DREAM Act. His sudden death seriously pushed back the nationwide effort to pass the law.
I live in America not because of leaders like Clinton, Obama or Bush. I live here because of leaders like Adele Welty.
Today, about two weeks before the tenth anniversary, I decided to start writing a few small things about 9/11, before the big, famous, not-so-big and not-so-famous took over the entire stratosphere. I thought my small, rather “insignificant” blips could be blipped now, before big media began their ga-ga tear-jerkers 24/7, in all likelihood from the Friday before the solemn Sunday observance.
After all, compared to what they have to say and for how long they have to say it, my blurbs would be quick, straight, and…did I say small? Only difference is, my otherwise non-noteworthy notes might be a lot simple.
You would have no problems getting them.
I do not ever want to trouble you with the details of that harrowing, fateful day; plus, the big guys and gals will give you so much gas that you would need half a box of Pepcid AC to digest it. And honestly, I’m glad they’ll give you the bloated details; because I have a lot of overlaps too: like, I truly believe, swear to God, that it was a barbaric and heinous criminal terrorist attack, it was a ghastly-cowardly act, it showed how people came together in New York and all across America to protect peace, and how it created global solidarity against hate, violence and terror.
I’m glad I don’t need to repeat the routine. In fact, I have no doubt the big and famous can do a better job on that front than I can.
I’d rather tell you a few personal stories — stories that some of you may have heard, seen or witnessed first hand. Some of you may have worked with me shoulder-to-shoulder in the aftermath of that terror, and these stories are perhaps all too known to you. Yet, in the vastness of the tribute to the 9/11 halo, so many small stories of small men and women have not been told well, or told at all, that I feel this tenth anniversary would perhaps be a good time to bring them back to life.
I also feel personally obligated, because a small chronicler that I am, these men and women have entrusted me one way or the other to tell their stories to the world, and I did my best to do it over the past ten years in bits and pieces, but never managed to do it in an organized, coherent way.
I hope that this new little blog would serve as a reservoir of these personal, small stories — for an eager and compassionate audience. Some friends have always insisted that I did it.
Please come back and visit us. I’ll ready the real-life stories for you — one personal story at a time.