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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Fallout from Sept 11 still being felt!


There are efforts by ordinary citizens all over the world to heal the wounds left by the Sept 11 tragedy. Many people have been reaching out to one another with respect, humility and trust.
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: Alter servers wait t...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

UNLESS you’ve been on Mars this past week, you would have realised that it was the 10th anniversary of Sept 11 a few days ago. There had been so much news and stories about it everywhere.

Nobody doubts that the events of Sept 11 10 years ago were a horrific tragedy, and all sympathy should go to the families who lost loved ones that day. But it should also be remembered that the aftermath of Sept 11 has been equally tragic, and is still ongoing.

According to the costs-of-war project at Brown University, a “very conservative” estimate is that about 137,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and that the wars have created more than 7.8 million refugees in these countries.

The Brown project puts the wars’ ultimate cost, including interest payments and veterans’ care, to the United States at up to US$4tril – equivalent to the country’s cumulative budget deficits for the six years from 2005 to 2010. Think of how many people that money could feed and school.

What have all these gained? Even Americans have been affected by it. Today, they live in an environment so fearful of another attack that they have to suffer the indignity of all manner of surveillance and security inconveniences. One recent op-ed in the New York Times suggested that on balance the infringements on civil liberties that Americans have had to suffer are relatively minor.

It failed to mention that for its American Muslim citizens, these have been major. The blame, the humiliation and the abuses that they have had to endure are not yet over.

But despite all these, and its global impacts, there are efforts by ordinary citizens to heal these wounds. In the United States and several other Western countries, the issues that arose from Sept 11 were not glossed over but discussed and debated as a way to rebuild the broken bridges. Civil society, rather than governments or politicians, have been at the forefront of these.

I was just in Western Australia where I was asked to speak at a conference on Rebuilding Harmony in the post-Sept 11 world. It was heartening to see so many people interested in the subject, and so disappointed by the ongoing violence that has accompanied the event by all sides.

Many Australians had been opposed to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, correctly seeing that this was no way to have peace.

They emphasised that people of different backgrounds, cultures and faiths need to know one another in order to avoid war, and that politicians should be held accountable for their part in the violence.

In the evening after the conference, we attended a special service at the main cathedral in Perth to commemorate the anniversary of Sept 11. It was attended by all the state dignitaries as well as people from all faiths. The entire service was beautiful and solemn as befitted the occasion.

But what moved me most was something I did not expect nor had ever experienced. An imam from a local mosque got up and recited the Al Fatihah and two other verses from the Quran dealing with compassion to humanity.

To hear the first surah of the Quran recited in Arabic in a cathedral while everyone listened so respectfully was a profoundly emotional experience for me. Never had its meaning been more beautiful.

It led me to think about how elsewhere in the world so many people have been reaching out to one another with respect, with humility and trust. When I heard the Al Fatihah in that church, it made me love my religion more.

The translation was in the programme, along with the words of all the other prayers and hymns that day, Christian and Jewish.

And what struck me most was how the sentiments expressed, while coming from different holy books, were in fact similar. My religion is as compassionate and generous as any other, not just to our own people but to all of humanity.

It made me wonder why this does not happen at home, why there is so much mistrust that nobody steps into a house of worship that is not their own.

Surely to be able to know one another is a good thing. After all, God says in surah Al-Hujarat, verse 13: O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another.

By constantly isolating ourselves from each other, are we not rejecting what our Creator intended?

As Malaysia Day approaches, perhaps we should think about how we can reconcile with one another. Or at the very least, refuse and reject the many deliberate attempts to divide us.

Selamat Hari Malaysia!