As a Chicagoan, I’m very proud of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and the John Hancock center. Not only do these buildings aptly epitomize the City of Broad Shoulders, the fact they were designed by a Pakistani-American Muslim adds another dimension of pride for me. Since 9/11, American Muslims have identified with the US and differentiated from the violent extremist mindset which has permeated parts of the Muslim world since the Soviet-Afghan war. In my mind, there is no better symbol of this differentiation than the former Sears Tower – we are the kind of Muslims who build things to reflect our high aspirations as a civilized nation, and are not the ones who want to smash planes into such buildings.
The events of 9/11 were perpetrated by misguided Muslims whose belief in a twisted version of Islam is anathema to most Muslims, both in the West and in the rest of the Muslim world. Committing suicide is a major sin in Islam, and the only act one cannot ask for forgiveness if carried out successfully. As has been the tradition in Islamic cultures for centuries, no funeral rites were held for the 19 hijackers anywhere in the Muslim world. For Muslims, an act of suicide is deemed taking away the greatest gift God bestows upon us.
About 60 Muslims died in the Twin Towers, which in a numerical coincidence, reflects the percentage of Muslims in the US. In other words, we American Muslims felt the same, but we carried – and continue to carry – other burdens, namely, distinguishing Islam from any virulent ideologies, standing up for our civic rights in the US, correcting misinformation about us in the media, and also denouncing anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.
It seems fitting that in this 10th year of 9/11, the main perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, was captured and killed. A collective sigh of relief was echoed throughout the Muslim world and amongst the American Muslims. In a larger context, it was a non-event, as only a chapter has been closed; the wider war on terrorism and Islam’s battle against his twisted ideology continue.
Since 9/11, in a globalized cobweb of strategic and tactical relationships, the US and Pakistani nation destinies are even more intertwined now. Specifically, 9/11 didn’t end in a field in Pennsylvania (that’s’ where the last plane on 9/11 went down); the battleground moved to Pakistan, where since 9/11, over 30,000 innocent have died as a result of suicide bombings. Another 3,000 soldiers – from rank and file to general levels – have died fighting the same people and ideology which perpetrated 9/11s’ tragic events.
It’s really ironic that the world’s largest Muslim army – the Pakistani army – is fighting a war on its soil. No wonder, then, that the attacks by the Taliban since bin Laden’s death have been directed at Pakistan’s armed forces. Almost all of the high-value terrorists have been captured in Pakistan, who slipped out of Afghanistan after the war started there in 2002. Just this week, a major Al-Qaeda operative was captured, once again with collaboration between the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence agencies, only to have the head of paramilitary police in that town die in a suicide bombing at his house.
Why do they hate us?
People throughout the world love America and Americans – that’s why they keep coming to these shores as emigrants and international students. Regrettably, the same can’t be said of the US foreign policies, which often cater more to special interests than our national security concerns. Globally, our support of corrupt regimes does not buy us any political currency or legitimacy. More significantly, it’s against this backdrop that bin Ladens of world are seen by the disenfranchised masses as a David who stand up against the Goliathan West.
Moreover, looking the other way to the human right abuses in Israel and the Indian-occupied Kashmir provide a tremendous amount of fodder to the terrorists’ mantra of violent reactions. Both of these perennially tinderbox of issues – each over 60 years old now – are the raison d’être for much of the extremism in the Muslim world. Even those not directly connected to these issues use them to advance their political agendas.
Lessons of the Last Decade:
American Muslims grew up in a hurry, as we felt the double whammy of a national tragedy which was conducted in the name of our faith. We came out of our comfort zones, and rallied hard against the extremist mindset. At the same time, an average American learned more about Islamic than we ever would have under normal circumstances.
Islamophobia became a phenomenon during the last decade, and every conversation about Muslims in America seemed to be upper- and lower-bounded by the terrorism narrative. It’s as if an admissions price had been placed on us, that is, before we are allowed to sit at the proverbial civilized nations’ table, we are expected to denounce this and distance ourselves from that. Hopefully, after 10 years of concerted rhetoric, substantiated by actions, we – as a nation – move beyond that narrative. The American Muslims used to be defined by who we are not; now, we hope to be defined by who we are – citizens who add value to the society.
In the last 10 years, we have encountered the complex challenge of radicalism, felt compelled to revisit some of our foreign policies, realized that Judeo-Christian traditions in this country have a global partner in Islam, and saw the best and worst this nation of ours has to offer. How can we forget Colin Powell’s contemplation at a picture of a American Muslim mother hugging her fallen US soldier son’s gravestone and wondering so what if Obama were a Muslim? Worst: A Florida pastor – seeking publicity – decided to burn the Quran, but again, the best of our society emerged when someone no less than General Petraeus asked him to back down. Our non-Muslim friends in the UK started Read the Quran Day on Facebook in reaction. Last year, Mayor Bloomberg rightly pointed out that incessant arguments over the so-called Ground Zero mosque would die down after the elections, which it did.
I have two cousins in the US Marines, both of whom have done two combat tours of Iraq. Their father, a retired major from the Pakistan Army, fought two wars for Pakistan. But after immigrating to the US, he made sure that both of his sons serve the armed forces in his adopted new country.
A recent expose by the Center for American Progress revealed that propaganda money to the tune of $42 million was spent to disseminate misinformation to the churches. American Muslims don’t have any financial resources to counter that, but we have a trust fund with the American society which, in times of confusion, relies on its panache for basic decency and truthfulness. For example, two minor examples from local churches re-affirm that faith: In Northbrook, the day after 9/11, a group of parishioners offered to form a chain of hands outside a newly-built Islamic school – for as long as the need be. In Morton Grove, leaders from the local St. Martha church walked over to the MCC School on 9/11/2001 to see if everything was ok. A couple of years later when someone threw a stone at the mosque’s window, St. Martha collected donations to pay for the repair. Such bits of Americana cannot be forgotten, and in a profound way, affirm my belief that the US has always – always – ended up on the right side of history.
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