Rediscovering Our Humanity
“Ten years since a perfect blue sky turned into the darkest of nights.” The words of Mayor Bloomberg, as he gave a moving tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Like most people, I remember where I was and what I was doing and the horror as I watched the second plane go into the second tower of the World Trade Centre. It would have been so much better if it was a movie trailer like some people initially thought but it was not Hollywood doing what it does best. This was a group of terrorists unleashing what would define the next 10 years of geo-political relationships and the term, ‘War on terror’, was coined.
The war on terror is/has been a roller coaster ride that has seen innocent people become the accused and suffer unjust actions, the rules of war changed overnight and families continue to do their best to get on with their lives. We have become witnesses to wars the US, had no business fighting and so, a generation of young men and women, with their lives ahead of them lost during battle. A heightened level of distrust now exists among ordinary citizens and nations, who were once allies. From New York to London, the fear of a terrorist attack has made us fearful because safety is no longer guaranteed. Our governments have lost their moral authority and we, our moral compass. I won’t bore you with the details. The news media has successfully made us aware of that. At the same time, we cannot forget that the mastermind of this pain is gone. Though there are leftovers of his demented ideologies. While I am fully aware this is a dream, one can only hope we will never see another day like 9/11 or the attacks in Tanzanian and Kenya, which should have served as a warning of what was ahead.
Since 9/11, I feel like humanity has been having the worst PR crisis imaginable. It went on holiday and we are still searching for it. The hate keeps spreading, the wars unending, lives continuously been cut short, economies in trouble but responsibility, empathy and humanity is no where to be found. I am by no means naive that our threshold of empathy was perfect before 9/11 but that day opened a box, we managed well until it became unmanageable and our true colours started to shine brighter than we could muster a fake smile with 32 pearly white teeth. If you are on Twitter, Facebook among other social media/networking platforms, by now, you are fully aware that human beings have an opinion on everything. Some of us are not fit to own a social media page, let alone be allowed to express the views we do, on the ‘World Wide Milky Way’ where we can all partake in such vile, hideous and allow me, heinous comments. I am of the opinion that some things, once said…certainly constitute to a crime against humanity. However, I have learnt and still learning to manage my response to such comments.
I am reminded of a TED Talk I saw a few months back that was touching. In spite of the ideological arguments/comments from individuals on the YouTube video below, I found the two women, who were telling their stories powerful and inspirational. Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha el-Wafi have 9/11 in common. Rodriguez lost a son during the attacks on the World Trace Centre. While el-Wafi’s son, Zacarias Moussaoui, has since been convicted for his role in the attacks and is serving a life sentence. Yet, these women have found a way to see beyond their individual pain and realise that both sides are suffering. This is where I say it is not only Americans that have suffered at the hands of Osama Bin laden. From Tanzanian to Kenya, Afghanistan and Pakistan, people suffered and continue to suffer. Yet, these two women found a way to forge a friendship, try to understand each other’s story and maintain respect for each other. They by no means say what has happened to them is easy. What I admire is their ability to stand side by side.
We will never live in peace that much I have come to understand and I don’t say that as a pessimist. I am eternally optimistic but there comes a time when you must call a spade and spade. The world is getting dangerous by the day…take a look at recent events in Nigeria with terrorist attacks and the continuous killings in Jos. In Norway, Anders Behring Breivik had the nation mourning after taking the lives of over 70 people for reasons that make you wonder what he was smoking leading up to that moment. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists keep assaulting innocent citizens on a daily basis. In Libya, Syria and Yemen the revolution continues but at a high cost, the loss of lives. Recently, I saw a video footage on Facebook, of a Gaddafi loyalist/fighter, being beheaded with what looked like a kitchen knife. The son of a gun cutting his neck and those around him were chanting Allah Akhbar (God Is Great). I have no recollection of a verse in the Quran which says kill a man and as you are killing him, chant Allah Akhbar. People hide behind religion to do hateful things…and it is getting worse. But that clip was so haunting; I did not finish watching it. It was too traumatic for me. Yet, that is the kind of pain some of us inflict on other with our words and actions.
On saturday, I posted a tweet after watching the film, United 93. It was a simple tweet, nothing controversial – “Refused to watch any film about 9/11 but today, I took a chance with United 93 & I am trying to imagine how they felt and I am so cold.” Someone sent me a tweet, asking a question along the line of (Paraphrased) ‘Am I heartless for not…feeling like one life is more valuable than the other…’ By this, I guess they may have been referring to the lives of people lost as result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world due to US foreign policies. But here we were, talking about the American victims of 9/11. While I understood the point they were driving at, no life is more important than the other. Pain is no respecter of persons and it has no favourites. We all feel it in one degree or another. I did feel that question was very insensitive given the current climate and one, I had no time or energy to agree or disagree with by engaging them. So I responded, ‘You alone can answer that question for yourself.’ Why did I feel that question was insensitive, for the simple fact that, there comes a time, when we need to get past our ideologies, anger, hate and disagreement with a ‘political ideology or action’ and remember that human beings make a nation and it was innocent lives taken on that day. Most of them were neither politicians nor policy wonks. Just ordinary everyday people going about their lives and did not deserve what happened to them. No one deserves what has transpired in the last 10 years.
I am reminded of scenes from Pakistan after 9/11, when people went on the streets in jubilation that the US had been attacked. It was one of the lowest ebb of humanity in my opinion. Anti-American sentiments got in the way of being able to remember we were human beings and when it could easily be one of us in the position. Fast forward to 2011, after Osama Bin laden was killed, we also had Americans on the streets celebrating his death. That too was wrong, however inhumane a person was in life, you don’t celebrate their death in that manner. Instead it should be a time for reflection and a time to say never again to certain acts. Personally, Osama bin Laden’s time was up. You do not commit such crimes against humanity like he did and not expect fate to catch up with you one day. If you live by the sword, get ready to die by the sword. He must have known what he was up against when he plotted the attacks. Yes, two wrongs don’t make a right but when you declare war, be sure you are going to get an unpleasant response. In the same manner, the response by the US was hasty, especially, the war inIraq and so, we have two unwinnable wars raging…
Deep within our pain, anger and fault finding, we must rediscover our humanity because if we don’t, given the rate at which our world is caving in on us with heinous crimes my mind fails to comprehend, we are going to end up being filled with more hate than any other human emotion we can find. You can critique from a political stand point all you like but this is not about politics. I write as an individual, who feels our sense of right and wrong needs to wake up. It is about finding that place, however deep your pain to release the it before it eats you up and consumes you until you become hateful. Forgiving is hard and our memories are so good at reminding us as to why we must not forgive but un-forgiveness is cancerous and eats deep into you. I believe it is pretty clear we can see symptoms of it in our various societies when we don’t find a common ground for truth and reconciliation. The more advanced we get with our inventions and technologies; the more our humanity depreciates because we feel a sense of entitlement. We understand our rights more than we do our responsibilities. be aware, in writing this post, though 9/11 is the foundation for the thoughts I share, rediscovering our humanity applies to every area of our lives.
As the world remembers that day, which is forever etched in history for the pain it has caused 3,000 families and those who have lost their lives in the wars that ensued, my only hope is that we will find it in ourselves to rediscover our humanity. 9/11 certainly changed the world and continues to define ideologies. But we must ask ourselves if the change is for the better because if it isn’t, we are certainly in more trouble than we wish to admit. From acts of terrorism to the manner in which you treat the man walking on the street, it is time we go back to that word, HUMANITY and ask ourselves on an individual level, what it means to us. Only then, can we collectively take the right actions to shape our societies and world.
Images: Daniel Hulshizer/AP and Dragon’s Blog