As the dust settles from the fallen towers of 9/11, as the grief lingers, as the anger remains, as the nightmare haunts, as the fear of the unknown surrounds, as the innocent dead ask for what sins or crimes did they die; is the view any clearer?
Five years ago America suffered an act of horrific magnitude which has robbed it of its innocence. For on that day the music ceased, the dancing stopped and the skies became silent. In the days that followed America dug down its feet deep in the smoldering ashes of ground zero and cried revenge. A sleeping giant had been woken with pain and the world witnessed the fury and the wrath of a nation going after its enemy. Our rage was great, our reason subdued. At first it was the menace in the mountains, later it was the despot in the desert, now it is the insurgents by the roadside. Who will it be tomorrow?
Five years later as the war rages on, as Americaâ€™s courageous young continue to pay the ultimate price on some distant lands, here at home the resolve of a divided nation is being tested. The politics of fear harp on the sensitive cords of a nationâ€™s memory. Our leaders remind us that the enemy can still strike us where we live and play. They tell us that we are safe but not safe enough. That this is a war not â€˜of â€˜ civilizations but â€˜forâ€™ civilization. A nation weary of promises, feeling betrayed at times, listens in silence and wonders what to believe.
As the dust settles and the noise subsides, can we see the misery of a people born in poverty, subsisting on scraps, living without hope? Can we hear the cries of a people huddled in refugee camps, banished from their homes by manâ€™s inhumanity to fellow man? For if we saw them and we heard them, then we would know from whence comes the anger and the anguish that spreads terror in our tranquil world. â€˜If a mind is a terrible thing to wasteâ€™ at home, it is equally so in the huts and villages of the lands we visit in the name of freedom and democracy.
If we are a people who believe in compassion and justice, the tragedy of the millions dying from AIDS in Africa, the plight of the millions struggling under occupation in Palestine and the genocide of the millions killed in Darfur cannot remain ignored from our conscience. Throughout the course of our history America has stood tallest when it has stood in defense of freedom and justice and reaped the greatest harvest of goodwill when it has chosen to serve the poor and the downtrodden with love and compassion.
As the towers fell and America woke up to a new reality, did Muslim America wake up too?
As the spotlight turned on Muslim Americans and a fearful nation raised questions about their identity, their loyalty and their beliefs, they found a community that spanned a spectrum of beliefs, exhibited an overwhelming concern over Americaâ€™s foreign policy, and a significant indifference to the issues at home; a people disconnected from their neighborhoods, ignorant of social issues, unacquainted with the problems of their neighbors, living in the comfort of their ethnic enclaves. They found centers where governing structures were authoritative and undemocratic. They found administrative systems in these centers woefully lacking. They found communication mechanisms mostly non existent. They found some places with an emphasis on meditation and memorization. They found other places engaged in conflict and controversy, intrigue and isolation.
Unable to comprehend the complexity of this multifaceted ideological and cultural group, a America labeled them all potential terrorists. Some 18,000 got deported; bank accounts got frozen; charities got shut down. Muslim America never woke up to face this challenge.
As the dust settles and the view has become clearer, what do we see? We see a community that refuses to alter its ways. Although much has changed around us, little appears to have changed within us. Our institutions remain unchanged. Our communication systems remain broken down. Our governing structures remain unaccountable. Our administrative functions remain inefficient. Our educational priorities remain questionable. Our societal involvement remains minimal. Our political participation lacks purpose. We delight in the pleasures of holding hands and praying for peace. Our passion for building mosques remains high; our commitment to community service remains low. While America reorganized to face its new reality, we have remained largely disorganized, complaining about our image often, not recognizing our reality enough.
The fear of the unknown stops us, but we must push on, knowing full well that through our effort and our striving we can make a difference for others. Indeed that is perhaps the best way to reassert our Muslim and reclaim our American identity as well.
In doing so we would certainly earn the respect and affection of our neighbors and unquestionably establish our love and loyalty for America.
Azher Quader; Executive Director, Community Builders Chicago; www.mycommunitybuilders.com; email: firstname.lastname@example.org