This is the first anniversary of September 11 that I am in the US. The day began on a somber note for us. Our office has a morning greeting tradition that I love. Nothing fancy, just a short ‘Good morning’ spoken over the PA system, followed by a thought for the day. Some make it flowery, others like it philosophical, while most just put in some funny words to begin the day with a smile. Each one of us gets a chance every few months, and I had good fun researching my morning greeting the last time.
Today’s contribution wasn’t funny at all. All it said was, ‘Good morning all. Today is Tuesday, September 11. Never forget.’ Stark and simple. Nothing else needed to be said really. I was deeply touched and felt disturbed for a long time after that.
I was in my first year of engineering in 2001. On Septmber 11, I came home from college later than usual, at around 6. I was in a very upbeat mood, having just won the semi-finals of the annual debate contest held in our college that day. Ironically, the topic had been Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. When I came home that evening, the TV was on and everybody was watching it in shocked silence. It took some time for the realization to sink in. This was no televised drama. The WTC towers were actually crumbling down like a pack of cards. In NYC, the heart of USA no less.
The same footage of the plane crashing into the WTC tower was shown again and again. After a while, the mind became numb. The coverage continued for weeks in India, thousands of miles away. Some people were angry. ‘Why is the Indian media so concerned with what happens in America? What about the bomb attacks in Kashmir?’, they asked. Others were openly admiring of USA’s strong war rhetoric, the grand declaration of a global war on terror. ‘These people know how to retaliate, not like our own spineless government!’, they said. As the war on terror gathered speed, many were critical too. ‘The US government brought this upon themselves!’, they declared. ‘Now why are they punishing the whole world for their troubles?’
It was easy to be admiring, critical or dismissive of America from a distance. Although I felt deeply for the victims, I was never as touched by the tragedy as I am today. My interactions with people in office brought home the intensity of their loss. Not just the mind-numbing loss of so many lives, although that is huge undoubtedly. But more chillingly, there is a certain loss of innocence, the loss of a belief in their own invulnerability.
Nice, warm and friendly people, Americans are, just the same as you and me. Yes, they do have a free and open culture, very different from the more traditional Asian or Middle Eastern cultures. But that’s no reason to dub them uncultured, is it? Their faith is different from Hinduism, the religion I was born into, or Islam, the religion practiced by the majority of people in the Middle East. Is that enough to label them as barbarians or infidels? They believe in the same values that we believe in, freedom, friendship, family, love, warmth and kindness. How different really are they from the rest of us? And even if they are different, why can’t we live and let live?
Perhaps their government has made mistakes. Meddled in too many affairs worldwide. Wielded the clout that comes with being a superpower a bit too often. I don’t agree with a lot of the US government’s foreign policies. Just as I disagree with some of my own Indian government’s policies. Or as an American might disagree with his government’s policies. But is that any reason to kill innocent people? Will the loss of an innocent life in NYC obliterate the sorrow of a death in Palestine? Doesn’t an eye for an eye make the whole world blind?
I feel scared when I think of bringing a child into this dangerous world. Where people have zero tolerance for another’s views and beliefs and zero compassion for another’s sorrow. In one of my crazier moods I muse, wouldn’t the world be a better place, a safer place if only women were in charge? No, make that only women who are mothers. Imagine how hard would it be for a mother to bomb a school bus! Crazy thoughts aside, I fervently wish the world would see some sense sometime soon. And my heartfelt condolences go out to the September 11 victims, and to all other victims of terrorist attacks worldwide. May God bless us all!