Today was the 17th anniversary of 911, a watershed moment in our nation’s history. When the twin towers in lower Manhattan fell that day and thousands perished, the world came to witness in silent horror, the awful power of hate.
Over the years Americans have been fed a narrative of whence came this murderous hate. We have been told, they hate us because of our way of life, our freedoms, our love of democracy, our support of some governments around the globe they don’t support. We have been comforted by our leaders who had reassuringly reminded us that we will seek these hate mongers one by one and not rest till we destroy them. Yet17 years later, after killing all their known leaders, our war on terror continues, the enemy remains elusive and dispersed, our victory is uncertain, our peace and security worrisome and fragile.
First it was Afghanistan. Then it was Iraq. Now we watch while Syria burns.
This has been our longest war in our nation’s history. Over four thousand lives lost on distant lands, billions being paid to fund it, and still no end in sight..
Over a quarter million killed in Syria alone. Similar counts in Iraq. Over 11 million displaced and homeless. Europe is overwhelmed by the enormity of the refugee crisis. Innocent people caught in the cross fire of sectarian hostilities and proxy wars, are every day risking their lives on overloaded boats, desperately attempting to escape to some peaceful shores.
We no longer hear their stories now. The world we live in has more interesting stories to claim our fleeting attention. Donald Trump, Russian collusion, Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen, Bob Woodward, Rocket Man and ‘Stormy’ Daniels.
Along the way we have picked up a few new slogans too: Make America Great Again, Ban the Muslims, Ban the Refugees, Build a Wall, Repeal Obamacare, impose tariffs, rescind treaties, disband regulations, cage the children, deport the paperless.
Our country is polarized today as never before. Each tweet from the White House gives birth to a new level of dissent, more rallies in the streets, more movements to fight back, more outcries, more anger.
We have bombed our enemies, we have bombed our allies. We have banned the Muslims and we have banned the refugees. So where do we go next?
Is 17 years not long enough to be in a better place for peace and security, at home and abroad? Is it time to pause and ponder? Is it time to wonder what made those that were once our trusted friends in the mountains of a far-off land, become our deadly enemies? Where did we lose our way? Or did we?
If freedom is our founding principle, others too must cherish it to have and enjoy. If justice is what we demand for ourselves, in order to live with dignity and grace, that too is what others seek in their corrupt societies with rampant inequities in which they live. If peace and security is what we desire in our neighborhoods and for our families, others too aspire for safety in their towns and villages where they could play and sleep in peace. If we want economic prosperity so we could enjoy the fruits of our labor, others too wish for places to work and jobs to have in their poverty-ridden jobless communities where opportunities are so scarce to have.
In a connected world should we never ask the question, what kind of neighbors have we been? Are we our brother’s keepers? With so much wealth and so much plenty, do we have a concern for the condition of those who have so little and live in so much want and misery? With such power and such influence in the world that we exercise, can we look ourselves in the mirror and say yes, we are the honest power brokers, we claim to be? With so much talent and capacity we possess, to impact the health and happiness of so many communities around the globe, could we not do more, to make a bigger difference? As the biggest consumer of energy in the world, should we not be better stewards of its usage and caretakers of our environment, so others may follow our lead?
With such abundance of energy resources we possess, should we continue to court oil-rich sheikhdoms and monarchies for their cheap oil and ignore the message of control and violence they preach?
If the experience of the past has taught us much, we should know that the puzzle of terrorism cannot be solved through bombs and drones. We have tried them long enough and seen the results. A political solution also can only be a band-aid to stop the immediate pain. Real healing will require a much deeper dive, a much greater willingness to change course in order to obtain better results. It would mean a bigger commitment, a much greater effort on our part to stand true to the ideals that have made us so special, as a people of conscience and a nation of principles. When we falter from our ideals of justice and freedom we betray our own commitment to those ideals and undermine our own potential for greatness. We no longer remain ‘the shining city on top of a hill’, which is meant to be a beacon of light for the rest of the world.
The toxic talk that has been spread by some hate peddlers within our nation these past few years, may have bought a few votes for cheap, won a few elections to celebrate, or obtained a few dollars from donors inclined to move an agenda, but sadly has poisoned the air we breathe and live in. It has divided our people, pitting neighbor against neighbor, zealot against zealot, patriot against patriot.
They are clearly misguided when they say, “Islam is the problem”.. When fear overwhelms facts, then the admonition of a great American of yesteryears becomes ever so real, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” (FDR). The rhetoric of bigotry breeds fear and hostility, clouding our conscience and distancing us from the solutions we seek.
To say that they hate us because of our way of life is a gross misstatement at best and a lie at worst.
To say that their hatred comes from their religion is equally wrong. We have bought their hatred by pursuing our policies that have created their hate. Were we to pursue our similar policies against any other people, the results arguably would be no different.
They hate us because we starved their children and let them die from an embargo we enforced upon them. They hate us because we destroyed their cities, leveled their houses and made them homeless, in the search for weapons we did not find. They hate us because we subverted the will of their people and supported a military dictator to take over their country removing their duly elected leaders.
They hate us because of our wasteful indulgent, lifestyles that mock their poverty and their despair with indifference. They hate us because of the games of terror we play at will, as we rain bombs and bullets from the sky upon their hospitals and their innocent loved ones. They hate us because we have failed to exercise principled leadership and become honest brokers for peace, in long standing conflicts between hostile neighbors. Yes it is not our lifestyle they hate, it is their life style they hate and they see us as somehow contributing for it.
As Rula Jebreal, a journalist in New York who grew up in Jerusalem wrote: “The ISIS ideology can only be negated by an alternative vision that offers dignity, security and participation to all. Tunisia, is a working example of an alternative political Islam to that of ISIS, and an alternative approach to power to that of Egypt’s generals.
America’s intellectuals bear an urgent responsibility to question failed policies and move beyond a self-satisfied monologue about the problems of Islam — and to open a productive dialogue that includes Muslim voices speaking uncomfortable truths. Our common security depends on it.”www.rulajebreal.com
For American Muslims there could be no greater issue of relevance today than greater civic engagement. This is not a matter of them and us. For we are all in this together. Our stake at preserving the peace and security of our neighborhoods is no less than that of any other law abiding patriot in the land. Speaking truth to power is never easy. But remaining silent is not an option either. There are many in the nation who are speaking out against our misadventures in the world. We need to amplify the voices of those progressives who daily toil to make the case for justice abroad and justice at home. That is the only path to assure a world free of terror and fear.
“Ye Khamoshi Kahan Tak? Lazzat-e-Faryad Paida Kar
Zameen Par Tu Ho Aur Teri Sada Ho Asmanon Mein”
How long will you remain silent? Develop the passion to speak up!
You may be on the earth, but your voice should be heard in the heavens!