Sent to iranian.com on September 20, 2001, days after the 9/11 tragedy. It is being published for the first time.
as i sit here before my computer screen, it is 7 days to the minute since my home and my country have forever been changed as fear etched its unholy name into our modern-day history and our modern-day lives……i sit here in utter confusion, in sorrow, in anger, in tranquility and chaos…..i am safe in my body, but i have been harmed in my soul…..
i awoke early on the morning of september 11, 2001 to prepare for my final NASD examination, to be held at noon on whitehall street in manhattan's financial district, the very heart of the world's financial markets….. little would i know that morning that in a matter of minutes, taking an important examination no more than 3 blocks away from the beacons of the new york skyline, the world trade center towers, would be the last thing on my mind…..
at 8:48am, i heard from howard stern, of all people, that a plane had crashed into one of the world trade center towers……the thought alone of a plane crashing into new york's tallest skyscraper was jarring…..i had immediately been reminded of the 1945 military airplane crash into the empire state building…..i had then been reminded of the 1993 bombing of the world trade center garage…..and then i had realized that this was not a simple airplane accident…..
it was a beautiful, clear and sunny morning in new york city on september 11…..a subtle and pleasant summer had just come to an end, whilst new yorkers basked under the sunny, cooler skies of the autumn summer…..as i ran upstairs to watch the breaking news of the events that were taking place no more than 2 miles from my apartment, i wondered how an airplane could possibly fly so low towards the city on a clear day…..and then as i stood motionless before the projected image on my wall, i knew how such an event could take place…..
the unthinkable had finally happened, my beloved city, the place of my birth and my enlightenment, had been attacked in the most vicious manner…..this was no accident, that much was certain……as new yorkers the world over, for now we are all new yorkers, watched in horror, a second airplane at full speed smashed into world trade center tower 2……it was as all witnesses had described it, simply surreal…..for one moment, united airlines flight 175 disappeared in silence into the massive steel and glass sculpture while its twin burned furiously, emitting a thick black plume of smoke into the manhattan air……and as the world watched, death had descended upon the innocent…..
still wondering if my examination would be held, i phoned the test center…..i was told that i did not have to take my examination, but that the center was still open…..i could not believe it…..that's new york for you…..even in the face of extreme adversity, business goes on, even if only three blocks away from a potential catastrophe…..many people in wtc2 had actually gone back to work after being told that the situation in wtc1 was under control…..no one knew what would happen next…..i could not concentrate on my upcoming examination, but was determined to take it if need be…..
as i listened to howard stern and various ignorant callers to his show rant about “towelheads,” “getting these people out of our country,” and “bombing the hell out of five or six countries,” the intense sadness of what i had just witnessed had been met with an intense anger for the unspoken discrimination that people of middle eastern descent such as myself have encountered throughout our lives, despite being peaceful, loving, god-fearing americans…..i then feared for what people of middle eastern descent may encounter in the streets of the world's most diverse city…..
i immediately thought of my neighborhood friends, small business owners of delis and falafel shops, who have been subject to the hateful verbal abuse of drunken fools on just another saturday night, but this was not just another normal day, this was the day our world changed….. my roomate called me from upstairs, yelling to me that the pentagon had just been bombed…..our whole world felt like it was about to collapse, although we were safe in the east village with its pre-war walk-up buildings and its bohemians……and then, our whole world did collapse…..
that day, and in the days to follow, i had worried, not for my safety, but for the safety of my family still living in iran…..my grandmother still lives in tehran and after contacting my family and friends, my thoughts were with her and the safety of the innocent people of my beloved iran, the land from which i have been forever separated, due to the meddlings and” state-sponsored terrorism” by my home country of america in its past affairs…..i will never forget that our greatest leader, mohammad mossadegh, was admittedly deposed by our very own CIA…..
i was fully aware that the government of iran itself had sponsored” terrorism” in its multiple forms in the last 20 years and as i listened to the tough talk of our president, i worried for the safety of the innocent afghan, pakistani, iranian and iraqi people who have suffered so much at the hands of their respective governments…..i could not imagine how the merciful lord could allow an eye for an eye, the horrific slaughter of innocent people in the middle east to fill the void of the vengeance of the victims in the united states…..
i pray for the safety of my muslim and asian brothers in america who have come under the hateful, intolerant fire from our fellow american brothers searching for a scapegoat, looking for revenge to quench their tremendous anger…..i am constantly reminded of being jokingly called a “terrorist,” a “sand nigger,” and a” camel jockey”…..though i shrugged these comments off, i wondered where the joke ended and the reality began…..
i am constantly reminded of the day of the oklahoma city bombing, when a very liberal, very intelligent, openly gay student on my freshman year floor accused “my people” of destroying a building which housed innocent civilians and a children's nursery…..i am reminded of the internment camps used to round up japanese americans during the second world war and realize that maybe america has not really changed that much…..i too am angry, but in the face of hatred, i am able to check my anger so that reason may prevail…..
there is a reason that this has happened…..what exactly it is, i am not sure…..perhaps it is a sign that we shall not take our lives, our loves, our freedom, our liberty and opportunities for granted…..perhaps it is a sign that as a nation, america must embrace the world in peace beyond taking in its brightest minds and strongest bodies…..regardless, it is a time for remembrance and for “resolve”…..
i had often cited the many wrongs committed by the american government towards the third world…..i had often condemned the american economic imperialism of the 20th century, the greed and materialism of american society, and the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of many of its people…..at the same time, i had come to appreciate every breath of life given to me by my parents when they moved to brooklyn, new york some 30 years ago…… i had come to worship the freedom, education and opportunities available to those who work hard in this great country……and though the evil truths i knew about the american government had not been forgotten nor erased, just like that autumn morning when i stood before john fitzgerald kennedy's eternal flame, i knew the truth that despite it all, this country is truly great……
that day, i became a patriot in hiding as i read these words : “in the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. i do not shrink from this responsibility – i welcome it. i do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. the energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world…..”
i am now utterly confused as the constitution of the united states sits alongside al-qur'an atop my doumbek…..i stare at my wall and uncle sam commands me, “you've got what it takes soldier, now take care of what you've got”…..i wear the name of allah around my neck…..i feel more iranian and more american than i ever have in my life…..despite the fact that self-proclaimed muslims have brought great shame to the faith of islam and self-proclaimed americans have brought great shame to the freedom of this nation…..i am completely polarized…..i have been blessed whilst living near the gates of a new hell…..i am alive and well in america…..i will live and die in new york city…..it is now undoubtedly the greatest city on earth…..
when i finally brought myself to venture outside into the streets of new york, i had witnessed calm and compassion like never before…..passing by the evacuated united nations building…..standing on a chinatown rooftop inhaling the smoke and sight of destruction…..passing through the impromptu memorials erected at union, washington and tompkins squares with their flowers, flags and candles burning in memorium……strolling past cornell, nyu and beth israel hospitals, their walls covered with the pictures of the missing, and with them, glimpses into their lives…..thousands of innocent people woke up that day and died for no just cause…..they had no idea……i had no idea……i could have been one of them…..
prior to september 11, 2001 8:48am, it was the murderers, rapists, muggers, thieves & pushers that you had to watch out for, even the cops, but now, evil has taken on an entirely new face in our city…..even new york's criminals live in fear of what they have just witnessed, for even they have absolutely no control over it…..i never gave much thought to the sound of airplanes flying overhead, but now, the slightest rumbling in the skies above cause me to be on full alert…..we in america had not known true fear until it reared its ugly head on our welcoming shores…..we have all paid the ultimate price for our freedom…..now we know how the children of iran felt, dodging mines and missiles, how the children of palestine and israel feel, living everyday in violent uncertainty…..
in all my life in new york city, i had never been to the observation deck of the world trade center……i had only been through its mall and subway station…..now, the bodies of new york city's finest, its heroes and martyrs, its mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, lie there amongst hundreds of thousands of tons of rubble and ruin…..i reflect and look to mohandas k gandhi in this time of tragedy, who once said :
“when i despair, i remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. there have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall—-think of it, ALWAYS.”