Saturday, 11 September 2010

9/11: where were you?

My husband left for work, leaving a pile of curry stained clothes and other assorted chaos behind him! I put them in the washing machine, made the bed and mechanically worked through the routine, because that’s what I did, because that’s all there was to do while married to the X!
I ate breakfast (way too late in the day!), and performed the afternoon prayers. At that time, I was taking the 3rd unit of my counselling diploma, and had an evening class to prepare for. I settled on the sofa with my books, barely registering that the TV was on behind me. When sounds of America began rumbling through the room, I got annoyed, cursed it and changed the channel, only to find the same ruckus on BBC News 24! That’s when I increased the volume to find out what it was all about!
The twin towers? New York? Plane crash? Attack? I didn’t get it! I didn’t even know there were twin towers in New York: how would I know! I hadn’t visited the city, and being visually impaired meant it was not an image I had any conception of any way! when I heard about the planes, I just thought ‘lockerbie, the plane crash that occurred in Scotland back in the eighties, and more recently blamed on Libyan based terrorists. Stupid though it may seem, I hadn’t made the terrorist connection at all! Naturally, I felt great sorrow, grief and pain for all those trapped, which only increased when I learned that a friend’s cousin was ‘missing in the chaos. I got back to my studies, a few hours later, my dad telephoned, he’d been watching the images on TV and was deeply upset by them. My dad, who rarely shows any kind of emotion! Had been decorating our living room at home, and thought some kind of action film was on TV before he registered the enormity of what was going on. The X called me before I went to my course, he was barely moved by what he had seen: I think working in curry shops does that to most people!
At my counselling course, every one was in shock! I need not have studied, because every one sat around talking about the horror of the images! As I didn’t get that, I listened to them, and tried to comprehend how live visuals of 2 predominant buildings falling to the ground could so alter the international psyche. That was when a colleague on the course (and also a Muslim), said “well, I just pray like hell it wasn’t Muslims?”, ….., huh? What was she talking about! Why would it be Muslims! So-called Islamic terrorism was a little publicised concept back then, why on earth had my friend drawn that conclusion! As we know however, she was right to pray, for the falling of the towers would cause Muslims every where to fall too, out of fear for the future, fear of association, fear of labelling and violent rhetoric media hype. I was lucky, I was white, didn’t wear hijaab, wasn’t very practising and not associated with any particular mosque or institution. The X worried about it, being a then asylum seeker and a Pakistani Muslim, he was an ethnic profiler’s dream! (well, till they actually spoke to him that is!), still his previous political affiliations looked set to cause trouble for him when even those who bought milk in Asian corner shops generated questioning!
My aloof reaction grew, and for the next 3 years, I was a non-Muslim (physically, at any rate!). Sure I hated and despised the racists, the profilers and the journalists, but I was careful not to voice my hatred too loudly! Fast-forward nearly 10 years and so much has happened, globally and personally since then! Islamic terrorism has grown, hatred has too, fear and discrimination. I wear hijaab, others do too. Some wear face vales, and do so in order to prove a point. Questions have been asked and few answers given! It would appear that much is still to be revealed about what exactly happened on 9/11, and more importantly, ‘who done it!
Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have taught the world nothing, and Iran looks set to become America’s next hate victim, an atrocity which if acted out (God forbid), will be a crime that will hit me where it hurts, much closer to home!
But 10 years on, I still ponder the disaster, the stirred hysteria and how it shaped the world. Irish sectarianism was never labelled along quite the same religious lines when it was at its peak, but then, media was not what it is today! Live images and blood curdling stills did not fill our TV screens and our news publications. No internet, no blogs like this or facebook debates, the powers that be could control the external reaction in less defined terms. In many ways, the Irish observers were as blind as I am: no images means no need to panic! No need to think particularly deeply. Reactions went beyond what met the eye, because visual stimulation did not have the last word on conflict resolution as it does now! Had I seen the twin towers, had the people of Afghanistan seen them with the naked eye, we all might have fallen in to the ‘guilty till assumed evil trap! But we didn’t. I can’t see! That’s my fault, all I saw were the people who spat at me in the street, who called me filthy names that I don’t want to print here for fear of offending! I saw the ways in which my family distanced themselves from me, afraid that they would be tarred with the Islamic brush. I saw how airport officials treated me: like dirt! Like fuel for their suspicions! I saw how I was rejected for an American visa to speak at an interfaith conference, because Muslims had become apparently intolerant overnight! I saw how my people, my community was ravaged, how my brothers were tortured for crimes they did not commit. I watched Zuhair, the then love of my life being abused, harassed and held back by the very country he had adopted as his own! Refusing him citizenship, thus blocking his way to medical treatment, dignity and security while he suffered indescribable pain, alone, in despair!
I saw these things, felt them, heard them and reflected upon them, and while its easy to feel pain, sympathy and sorrow for each and every one who died on that fateful day, all those who have lost loved ones, then and now, from 9/11 onwards, its hard to feel any thing other than injustice about the rest. Maybe some saw the towers fall, but did they see the consequences, or the bigger picture of how the disaster would change the world map and the precarious balances of power? Some evils cannot be undone, but for those of the future, lets not be foolish enough to repeat the errors of the last decade. History has its place, though generally, those who bleat about victory burn the books of the other side, and fill the rest with hot air! Why not focus on an equal, transparent and ethical future! For all! You can burn qur’ans, burn buildings and run from their ashes, but the dust remains until it is thrown to the sea, its dust built upon, so that dust becomes bricks, new beginnings, truths to cling to and reflections to be proud of. Tomorrow may not come, so, rather than where you were then, why not, where are you now? And where could you be were you to ditch the shackles and rejuvenate your present!

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