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Reflections on the Anniversary of September 11th

by Mariam Momand, MWL Board Member

It will soon be a year when our once secure world took a dramatic turn. As the nightmare of September 11th unfolded, our memories froze the time and place that we were. At no time did I feel the power, the pain, and the impact of the electronic media more than I did that day. Around 6 clock in the morning, a co-worker surfing the Web announced that a plane crashed into the NY World Trade Center. In a split second, I was looking at the tower collapsing on my computer screen. The images were so powerful, and the shock was so immense. I called my husband warning him of what was happening and worried whether our daughters should go to school. As I continued my work, fighting tears in my eyes and feeling the heaviness of the pain in my chest, I learned that my husband had decided to take the girls to their guarded school. My helplessness rekindled memories of my past. I remembered the April of 1980 when as student of Kabul University, I was demonstrating against the Soviet intervention of Afghanistan. To break up our crowd, the government forces fired their guns in the air and threatened us with imprisonment. We did not take those threats seriously until the next day when we learned that a group of high school girls marching toward the university to join us were fired upon by soldiers. Nahid, an 18 year old, was shot to death. When I left Afghanistan, I thought that I had parted from those sad, helpless, and shocking memories. The immense cruelties and barbarism of September 11th, the memories of that past, crippled my mind and soul.

Is America a different nation after September 11th? Have we, the citizens of this nation become a different people? The firefighters and ordinary citizens demonstrated their heroism by giving up their lives, their tireless energy, and their assets to save, help and build after the destruction of September 11th. To avenge this heinous crime, our government shifted its glance to a country that once housed fighters who collectively constituted an icon equated with heroism. The leaders of the Afghan mujahideen that repelled the Soviet invasion eventually directed the country toward a destructive path. Taliban allowed Afghanistan to be a host to criminals who manipulated Islam to promote their own hatred, fears, complexities, and egos. Our government foresaw one option: to destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders who brought us grief and sorrow. Most Afghans welcomed the news. The starved, exhausted, incapacitated people of Afghanistan could not have overcome the machinery of terrorism that brewed in their country without America’s help. As the U.S. planes bombed Afghanistan to fight terrorism, Americans once again showed heroism by offering compassion to the innocent victims of the campaign.

In June, representing the Muslim Women League, I joined the delegates of Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group, to visit Kabul. Our interfaith mission was called “Sow the Seeds of Peace.” The level of poverty, destruction, and deprivation that over two decades of war have brought to this country overwhelmed our 19 member team. Marie Denis, vice-president of Pax Christi and laywoman with the Mary Knoll office of Global Concerns, explained the reason why she came to Kabul: “The only way that we can bring about change in our country (U.S.), and I believe there has to be a transformation, is by going to the places that are on the receiving end of our destructive foreign policies and finding those stories of hope. The gift of my work has brought me to the margins of life. I believe very much that in those places life is most often nurtured in hope.” The parallels between New York and Kabul are stunning. As brave New Yorkers retrieved the bodies of their loved ones the day after September 11th, the people of Kabul searched for their loved ones after the errant U.S. bombs fell. When a mother who lost her family by the US bombs is consoled by my Marie Denis, she feels less lonely in her despair. Rev. Myrna Bethke, another member of our delegation, spoke to the Afghans who had lost their families and homes as a result of the US bombing. She spoke of her brother who was in the NY World Trade Tower to Amina, an 8 year-old girl who had lost 16 members of her family including her mother in the US bombing. Kristina Marie Olsen lost her sister in American Airlines Flight 11. She sang about her vision of peace from the depth of her heart. Leeda a 16-year-old Afghan who lost her home in the US bombing, looked at me and said Olsen’s voice sounded sad. I told Leeda that Olsen was hopeful, like her, for a better tomorrow. As Americans move forward to get back some sense of tranquility, Afghans are attempting to move forward as well. However, Afghans are crippled by overwhelming odds. The years of war, drought and starvation have left the country without any infrastructure. Yet in the eyes of every child, every handicapped man, and every crying widow, I witnessed hope.

Our government should be inspired by the compassion offered by these delegates. Ahmed Rashid, in his book Taliban, criticized the US for “picking up single issues and creating entire policies around them, whether it be oil pipelines, the treatment of women or terrorism.” If America’s policy in Afghanistan is only to capture Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda members, it will once again engage in a shortsighted policy. If during this manhunt, the dreams of young Afghans are shattered, we must ask whether they will respond to the calls of other maniacs. The Osamas of the world will never be demolished but hopeful youth given a sense of direction, given a promise to keep hope alive, and given a helping hand will not respond to their irrational calls. As we come to terms with our losses and sorrows by visiting counties such as Afghanistan to offer a helping hand, our government should take responsibility for the damage caused by the US bombing. The efforts of organizations such as Global Exchange to establish Afghan victims’ fund for $20 million dollars to compensate these innocent victims should not go in vain. By rebuilding Afghanistan, by showing compassion to its starved citizens, our government will be as heroic as its people in response to September 11th.

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