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My soul cries
How do we rescue our lost human dignity?

By Yahya Kamalipour
September 18, 2001
The Iranian

Since the Dark Tuesday, I have felt numb, disoriented, confused, sad, and sleepless. Images, these damnable images of destruction keep playing, rewinding, and replaying again. Images of aircraft crashing into the symbol of global commerce-the World Trade Center. Images of the demolished section of the Pentagon-the symbol of American power and politics. Images of another crash near Pittsburgh-a part of middle America. I pause to digest the tragedy, but to no avail. My intellect searches for a reason, a justification, a cause. Over 5,000 innocent people representing 430 businesses from 26 nations are suddenly gone! My soul cries...

Rewind! And with each rewinding more images of destruction appear from the past. The image of Jews in the Hitler death camps. The image of a mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. The image of death during Iran-Iraq war. The image of an Iraqi civilian bunker set afire. The image of mass graves of Muslims murdered in old Yugoslavia. The skulls of people killed by Pinochett. The images of explosions in Beirut, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Panama, Granada, and Saudi Arabia. The images of massacres in Rwanda. The images of murder and destruction in Israel and Palestine. My soul cries...

Rewind! Stop, I command my brain. Stop! What do these images really mean? What do they tell us about the state of our global village-our humanity?

My five-year-old daughter walks into the room and asks, "Dad, why did those planes run into those tall buildings?"

My soul cries. My brain races. What should I say? "For God's sake," I think to myself, "you are a mass communication professor with over 20 years of research and teaching experience. Why can't you answer a simple question?"

-- "Why?" she persists!

-- "Oh, it was a terrible act by some demented people."

-- "Demented? What's that?"

-- "... it means mentally sick!"

-- "Why sick? Couldn't they go to a doctor?"

-- "I don't know, maybe they did but the doctor didn't help them!"

Unsatisfied with my answer, she returns to playing. My soul cries...

Rewind! The airplanes, the crash, the fireball, the collapsing towers, the people inside. Thousands of them-- culturally diverse, innocent, unaware, and dead. The ashes, the dust, the body parts, the cries, the fire workers, the police, the onlookers, the puzzled faces, the tearful eyes, the smoke, the dreams, the debris, the fire trucks, the searchers.... "This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to...." My soul cries.

Rewind! Images of Arabs, Muslims, Middle Easterners. Images of Osama bin Laden, his silence, his rifle, his demeanor, his target. Stop and think! The terrorists may be tied to Bin Laden but certainly they do not represent the religion, culture, or region. By their savage act, the terrorists have also quite successfully tarnished the already damaged images of Muslims, Arabs, and the Middle Easterners in the world -- no foreign force could have done such a thorough job of destruction on every front. Destructive and evil forces, indeed, take everything and everybody with them. My soul cries...

Rewind! Images of the TWA crash in 1996, the Oklahoma bombing in 1995, the Olympics in 1972, the poisoned corpses in an Iraqi Kurdish village, the death and destructions of the 8-year Iran-Iraq war, the downing of an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf, the downing of a Pan Am airliner over Locherby, the Persian Gulf War, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Christian crusaders, the Native American struggles, the African-American slavery, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russians war in Afghanistan, the Chechnyan uprising, the Irish conflict, the Contra affairs, the nuclear power plant disasters, the Bhopal Union Carbide accident, the Apartheid in South Africa, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, the Gandhis of India, Martin Luther King, and.... My soul cries!

Rewind! Images of Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners in Hollywood movies juxtaposed with airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. Movies such as Independence Day, Executive Decision, Under Siege, True Lies, The Siege, in which similar but fictional scenarios were played out. Images of Arabs, Muslims, and the Middle Easterners as terrorists, buffoons, extremists, and fanatics. Stop and think! Is it possible that Hollywood movies may have provided the lessons, technical schools the training, and organizers the financial means to the terrorists? Can we assume that fictional stories with happy endings, turned into real stories -- with sad endings in the case of the recent terrorist attacks? Is it possible that the dehumanization and marginalization of Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners in the Western (American) media could have also played a part in this American tragedy? My soul cries...

Rewind! Images of the Palestinian youth throwing stones, Israelis with rifles and tanks, suicide bombings, burial scenes, demolitions. Stop and think! Was the tragedy due to misguided and displaced U.S. foreign policies? Was it possible that a desperate, helpless, and cornered group (i.e., Palestinians) could have prompted the suspected Bin Laden and/or others to assault the U.S. for supporting the Israelis? Was the assault an act of desperation? Is it possible that those who masterminded the attacks intended to set Christians against Muslims or Americans against the Arabs? Is it possible that one of their goals was to cause turmoil, hate attacks, and civil disorder in the U.S.? Was it sheer madness? Was it built up hatred toward the Americans for supporting Israel? Was it revenge? Was it a consequence of the U.S. Government's support of despotic regimes? Was it a backlash of globalization and cultural imperialism? Was it ...? My soul cries...

Rewind! Ah, these damn images of injustice, inhumanity, warfare, conflict, hate, revenge, and stereotyping are unstoppable and unending. Stop and think! If we continue to repeat our past mistakes and retaliate massively and violently, don't we also end up killing even more innocent people? Won't we provide further excuses for more terror and bloodshed around the world? Won't we create more problems? In other words, should we, in our quest for increased political power and control, continue to sacrifice the innocent people, including children, women, and the elderly? Think! Now, more than ever before, restraint is a necessity. It is maturity and intellect, not mindless revenge, that will preserve a great nation. The world needs a role model. A role model who not only does not perpetuate the existing vicious cycle of violence, but works toward bringing a halt to terrorism and war through global cooperation. We should not succumb to such medieval brutalities as the terrorists did. Should we...? My soul cries...

Rewind! Not again! Stop! Where do we go from here? How do we rescue our lost human dignity? How do we deal with our next door neighbor's fear and suspicions? How do we avoid blaming an entire culture, region, or religion for the atrocities of a demented few terrorists? How do we control our emotions and avoid responding to tragedies through creating more tragedies? How do we gain a reasonable degree of trust so that we can all live in a relative state of peace and harmony? How can we replace hate with love? War with peace? Tyranny with freedom? Inequality with equality? Injustice with justice? And above all, what lessons should we teach to the next generation--our children? What legacy should we leave behind? My soul cries...

"This land is your land. This land is my land...." Let's hope that from the ashes of the buildings and victims of the terrorist attacks emerge rays of hope for goodness, mutual respect, peace, and harmony. Let's honor the vanished, console the survivors, and protect the most important and globally cherished American values -- freedom and tolerance. Let's stop sacrificing innocent people in the mantles of politics. Let's work together to stop future terrorist attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Let's rewind, pause, reflect, and think! Let's face the wake up call. Let's accept the fact that we can no longer afford to live in isolation. Let's meet the challenge of this new global reality, terrorism, by focusing on finding and eliminating the real criminals, not by killing more innocent peoples in Afghanistan (one of the poorest nations in the world) or elsewhere. Let's join hands and work together for a more peaceful and prosperous world. Let's focus our might, technology, intelligence, and energy on diagnosing problems, finding remedies, and devising sound, just, and humane policies. Any other course of action will erode our collective humanity further, perpetuate the existing cycle of violence, and bring us a step closer to Armageddon.

As the American Indian Chief Seattle once said, "Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself." My soul cries for what we have done to our web of life.


Yahya R. Kamalipour, PhD, is professor of mass communication at Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, Indiana. His most recent books are Media, Sex, Violence, and Drugs in the Global Village; Images of the U.S. Around the World; and Global Communication. For more information. Visit his web site at

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