City of Brass

City of Brass


11 after 9-11: a look backwards

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

World Trade Center Sculpture

It’s Patriot Day, the anniversary of Black Tuesday, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 (9-11). Eleven years later, I still feel the need to say something about it, suggesting that on some level I am still not “over it” and probably never will be. But looking back at what I’ve written about it over the years, there definitely is a progression of sorts. Here’s some of what I’ve written during the past decade:

In 2002: I couldn’t bring myself to say anything on the actual anniversary itself. A few days later though I wrote about 9-11 and the 2000 election:

I confess I did not fly a flag of any kind. I wanted to, but for two reasons. One to express my [pride] in my country, but the other out of fear, to avoid the stares I was starting to receive, to appease the demons of my own paranoia, which even now I have no way of knowing was what part justified and what part imaginary. That part of me that wanted to fly a flag to say to the world, “look! I’m not a terrorist! Target your anger elsewhere!” seemed to taint the part of me that said, “look! I’m an American too! Include me in your resolve!”. In the end, I chose not to fly one at all, reasoning that the emotion needed to be pure.

In 2003: Remembering Rick Rescorla:

“9-11 was an American tragedy, not a Jewish one. nor a saudi one, either. It’s our heroes who gave sacrifice that day, it’s our blood that was spilled, and it was our nation that was targeted for its past perceived sins. The mempry of Rick, the Minutemen of Flight 93, and the FDNYPD are American heroes whose heroism shall not be claimed by others to further their ends.”

In 2004, 9-11 fell during the holy month of Rajab:

Saturday was also the third anniversary of 9-11, but this year it didn’t really register. I hope I never live to see another day like 9-11 again. I haven’t forgotten it, and never will. But this year, the weekend was one of celebration of faith, and spiritual hope. There will be many anniversaries of 9-11 ahead, and I will give it it’s due then. But not this year.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina had just occurred, and Hurricane Rita was looming, so I simply never got around to writing about 9-11. However, I did note that a fellow Dawoodi Bohra muslim from Texas was killed in Iraq.

In 2006, I also did not mention 9-11, as Pope Benedict’s comments about Islam pretty much dominated the Islamsphere.

In 2007, the anniversary coincided with the start of Ramadan, the very same day according to the Fatimid calendar. My friend Shahed Amanullah, writing a Ramadan series for Beliefnet, addressed the convergence superbly:

…this Ramadan has been heralded by images of Osama bin Laden taunting us from his cave and exhorting non-Muslims to accept Islam, obviously unaware that the actions of him and his kind have done more to bring curses down upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad and turn people away from Islam more than anything in Islam’s history. It’s imagery and words like this, and the strong feelings they evoke in me, that I have to push aside in order to focus on starting this month right.

The terrorism that I read about in the news represents the polar opposite of what Ramadan stands for. Ramadan is about opening yourself up to God’s mercy, enduring patience in the face of discomfort and adversity, and providing assistance to those less fortunate. Extremism and terrorism is just the opposite–the ultimate exercise of self-indulgence and inflicting merciless hardship on the innocent.

In 2008, 9-11 fell squarely within Ramadan. I wrote about how muslims condemned terror again and again, with examples aplenty. I referred to these still-continuing accusations that we do not condemn as the “silence libel”:

It’s a shame that for many muslims, the anniversary of 9/11 is an occasion to retreat into a defensive posture, rather than stand proudly alongside our fellow Americans with head unbowed to the threat that faces us all. One of the reasons for this is the refrain often heard that muslims do not condemn terrorism, even though it’s easily refuted and utterly wrong. I call this the “silence libel”.

The muslim-American community is in fact fighting extremism every day, in a far more meaningful way than any march or endless condemnations upon demand. Instead, we are being good citizens, running businesses, working in professional fields, and raising our children to be loyal and patriotic citizens of this country we all love, to which we arrived as immigrants, lured by the promise unique to America that anyone can come here and succeed. We are the American dream, and we don’t need to prove it to anyone.

I also offered rare praise for Sarah Palin.

In 2009, 9-11 was on the eve of Laylatul Qadr, the Night of Power. And with the serenity of Ramadan as my aid, I finally felt a kind of peace about 9-11 that had eluded me until then:

The past few years, the anniversary of 9-11 has coincided with Ramadan. As I wrote last year, 9-11 usually elicits a defensive posture in muslim Americans, because of the lingering suspicion and distrust by our fellow citizens. But with the advent of Ramadan, I’ve felt like I’ve finally managed to take ownership of 9-11 like any American, and look at it without consciousness of my religious identity

this night is Peace. There is no better refutation of the crazed ideology of those who sought to divide us in terror. This is the time to look forward, at how precious little time remains in Ramadan, not look backwards.

A few days later, I engaged in a cross-blog debate about whether terrorism was still a threat and whether 9-11 was an outlier.

In 2010, 9-11 was a few days after Eid, ending the convergence of the anniversary of the attacks and the holy month, much to my relief:

Today is 9-11, which was an American tragedy, and a Muslim tragedy – but I am both American and Muslim, and yet the day finds me strangely disconnected. Perhaps the acrimony over the “ground zero mosque” debate has left me cold, or perhaps it’s the way in which 9-11 long ago ceased to be anything but a political football. It’s practically Al Qaeda ex machina.

I think that to properly learn from an experience – be it Ramadan, or 9-11 – we have to allow ourselves to rediscover the center, to immerse ourselves and cast aside all the distractions. Physically, or emotionally, we must exclude the outside and try to seek the essence. Now that Ramadan will no longer overlap 9-11 next year, and next year being the 10-year anniversary, I think that it will be easier to reconnect with both.

Finally, in 2011, my tenth anniversary 9-11 post was a feeling of hope and a statement of resolve:

I do remember. And that’s a feeling I haven’t felt since, but now resolve to feel daily. It’s time to rediscover that feeling about America and ourselves.

if we mourn today, it is for what we were before 9-11. Ten years after, during which we seemed intent on exploring being everyone other than ourselves, it’s time to finally reclaim our confidence and our resolve about who we are as a nation and as a people.

That was the first 9-11 in the post-Osama bin Laden world (whose death I also wrote about at length). I had to follow up my post with a stern warning to critics, however – that I will never condemn Islam or America.

Looking back on these ten years, I see a progression from fear and despair, to cynicism and defensiveness. But then came the cleansing of Ramadan, to focus my attention on what mattered, and after that the renewal of the new President, the very embodiment of everything I love about my nation. (which is another reason I support Obama for America). Now that ten years have passed, the only thing left to say about 9-11 is simply: Never Again. inshallah.



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