9/11/2001: The morning started as any other day. After a late night of coursework, I woke up and started planning for my 10 am meeting on campus. I logged into my email at around 8:30 and was still catching up when the CNN alert for the first crash came through. I thought this could not be real and turned on the news. As the channels exploded with the incredulity of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center, I stood transfixed and eventually watched the second crash on live television. This is not special effects in a block buster movie but the screen showed real lives and panicked people who didn't know what to do.
So much changed. Campus life changed. We changed. I used to comfortably wear my traditional South Asian outfits to business school but post 9/11, my brown skin and Islamic name were now a liability. I invested in a new wardrobe of pants and shirts, changed my hairstyle, blending in with the crowd to the extent possible. My Sikh friends removed their turbans in favor of baseball caps as stories of neighborhood violence spread in the news. We curbed our travel plans and when we did travel, did so with plenty of time on hand. We are often frisked, called out from the queue for an additional check, and our luggage was almost always under scrutiny.
These changes are nothing compared to the global changes that have obliterated communities and lives in the name of a global war on terror. Is fighting darkness with darkness really our best way to move forward? Isn't it America's foreign military policy that gave birth to the Al-Qaeda in the first place? The circular references in this story are mind-boggling, almost as though it's a snake that has started to chew on its own tail. There is no good end to this narrative.
So many lives have been lost and morphed. Most changes are not for the better. Though we own the resilience with which we march forward, the soul cries for all the stories that got buried in the rubble; the innocent ones that will never know a world without war.
I stand with humanity. My identity as an immigrant or an American is irrelevant in the face of such deep human suffering. For all the tears we have collectively shed, the hands we have held, the prayers we have offered - may all those supersede the darkness of hatred and revenge.
May we thrive together, for we are really created as one. The five fingers on our hand are not the same size, but they co-exist and work together to create a strong hand. In our physical attributes, we are not created the same, but I truly believe we are meant to make space for our differences, respect them and find ways to co-exist to create a stronger human world.
We need to first look inward, understand our prejudices and work to overcome them. Only then can we have a dialogue with another and, perhaps, together craft solutions that allow us both to move forward, in concert.
I am against zero sum games. Much as I believe in the concept of survival of the fittest and people working in their self-interest, maybe we need to start re-defining what self-interest means. For me, it has ceased to be working towards greatest economic dominance. For me, it is more about getting along and being able to grow our pie together. It is more about inviting others to adopt a similar mindset that is rooted in making humankind thrive for centuries - not through punitive measures for failures, but through positive reinforcement of successes.
Is it really that difficult to try and get along?
- mh (c) 2020