|Pillars of Heaven
We will be the light that drives out the darknes
By Shahriar Afshar
September 11, 2002
This article was emailed to iranian.com on September
When I was young, I thought Heaven was a place in the clouds, a place where mankind
could never ascend to until he crossed over. That was until I first saw the World
Trade Center Towers in New York. Not only did these giants seem to reach straight
into the heavens, they seemed to be holding up heaven. They represented the best
of us and to me they truly were Pillars of Heaven.
With their destruction, how can we find our way up again? I miss our pillars of strength
and the more than 5,000 souls that we lost to terrorism. Buildings can be replaced,
but people cannot.
Now that I am older and reluctantly wiser to the many failings of mankind, I realize
that Heaven is not a place in the clouds, but a place in the heart where we feel
safe and secure. When terrorists robbed us of our Pillars, they also called into
question our sense of safety and security and made us momentarily lose hope by challenging
our faith. It's up to us to find our way back and that we will.
This was not the first time I felt such a loss. When the Space Shuttle Challenger
exploded, I was equally devastated. The space shuttle encapsulated the aspirations
and ambitions of not only Americans but an entire planet. It was a perfect catalyst
of hope, much like our Pillars. There it was, the space shuttle, reaching straight
into the heavens on another routine launch and then it was gone. I felt hope slip
away that day, but this country showed me the way back with the resilient nature
of its people from coast to coast. The way everyone pulled together to get through
that terrible moment... it was a beautiful thing to watch and so, absent another
option, we recovered and moved forward.
Now, all of us are forced to deal with an even greater
loss in New York due not to an act of God, but to the great evil in man. How could
they cause so much devastation in a matter of minutes and change our lives to this
degree? How could we let them get so close and why? I would like to hate them back,
but I can't muster enough anger amidst these ashes. I know I can hate. Hate comes
easy and when it comes it consumes us all. Perhaps, I will hate later. For now, I
am simply lost. I miss those 5,000 souls that I never met or knew as if they were
part of my own extended family.
Like many expatriates, my immediate family moved to the US from Iran twenty-two years
ago to distance us from the political turmoil of the Iranian revolution. Today, I
am proud to be an Iranian-American and the beneficiary of both cultures. Every day
of my life in this country has been a blessing. I often think of how I can be a contributing
member of our society and help the community that opened its arms to me when no one
else would. This is my last stand for freedom, liberty, and peace. From this home,
I will run no more.
The troubling history of Iranian American relations has made my life here a bit difficult
from time to time. Iran and the Middle East are far away places with different languages,
cultures, histories, religion, and ideologies, more than anything we are used to
here. Sometimes it's hard for us to reach out to a place so far away. I admit, I
have often failed in this endeavor as well. But perceptions are difficult to change
and being born in Iran or the Middle East, does not make one sympathetic to terrorists.
I grew up to believe that no messenger of God would
ever come to you with a gun, a knife, or a plane. You will know him from his message
of peace and when he asks for nothing in return. I still have a challenged sense
of hope that my motherland and fatherland [the US & Iran/Middle East] will find
their way back together and create a future that will benefit and engage the generations
People in the Middle East and the United States all want the same things and have
the same dreams. Under the surface and across the borders, as Maya Angelu once said,
"We are more alike than not". Why do I still hope for the best? Maybe it's
my American fighting spirit guiding me through a tough time. Maybe it's my Iranian
heritage reminding me to be patient. Or maybe its just how ordinary people cope with
extraordinary circumstances. Whatever the reason, we must all press onward.
Just a few months ago, I was admiring the view of the Statute of Liberty atop the
New York World Trade Center Towers. It was a magnificent sight and I recall feeling
a great sense of pride as I surveyed America from our Pillars of Heaven.
For many, the World Trade Center Towers also represented the separation of trade
from politics. Trade remains as the great unifier of cultures and I still believe
in the World Trade Center idea, an idea that also paved the way for the Iranian
Trade Association, among others. Constructive and inclusive globalization can
build sustainable peace and prosperity for all of us.
By striking at our centers of world trade, the terrorists politicized international
commerce in their twisted attempt to destabilize, isolate, and disengage America
and its economy from the rest of the world. This will not and should not happen.
Our greatest strength has always been our diversity
and strategy of engagement abroad. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Darkness
cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that." The questions before us
now are: How do we remain in the light as we fight the darkness upon us? How do we
remain true to the principles of freedom and personal liberties as we seek to destroy
those who would do us harm?
I think that God has challenged us for a reason. This country will rise to the challenge
as it has always done so. As overwhelming as this catastrophe may seem today, we
will stay the course and preserve who we are with pride and deliberate commitment
to the future. This is the American way. Until then, we must expose, fight, and stop
terrorism at every opportunity. There is no room in the lives of our children for
anything less. We will be the light that drives out the darkness. But as we fight,
don't let the darkness change America.
Shahriar Afshar is president of the Iranian
Trade Association in San Diego, California.