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An open letter to Americans on a decade of 9/11

Nadim Asrar NadimAsrar

Updated: September 10, 2011, 10:32 PM IST
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Dear friends and comrades,

As I write this, television screens all over the world are already flashing their 'exclusive' coverage of the Big Sunday that will mark a decade of the tragic 9/11 attacks. The chilling images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center in New York - and the aftermath - will be played in a loop throughout the day. Families who lost their loved ones in the attack will come together to share their grief and anger; terror alerts would be sounded across the cities and the airports; analysts will be busy in television studios making a sense of the world since; and resolutions to fight terrorism and make the world a peaceful place will be renewed by leaders across the globe. Today, the world will join you in mourning the tragedy that not only changed your nation forever, but also - in many ways - the fate of millions outside the United States.

However, I face a dilemma as I address you on this fateful, and erroneously called, 'anniversary'. For me, there have always been two Americas: the people America and the state America. And there has always been a disconnect between the two. (I think I am entitled to make this claim after spending four precious and most memorable years of my life with you right in the heart of your country.) The people America, I found, are fun, warm, honest, and extremely advanced in what we call 'civic' behaviour. My friends back in India have always been admirably surprised when I told them I was never singled out of an airport line for my name or heckled for my colour. I made some of the most enduring friends there who would be treasured for life. I met some of the brightest minds I would ever know in classrooms there, and had the honour of knowing some of the most amazing academics. I will always miss the kind of landlords, storekeepers, waiters and random folks I would encounter on the streets. Few countries can boast of people ready with their uninhibited smiles to greet you a good day, or of people who would stop their vehicles to let pedestrians cross the street. I can imagine your horror when you visit India 'to see the Taj' and are often either confused for an idiot or swindled by a crook for smiling at a stranger. As far as crossing a busy road in India is concerned, well, I suggest you forget about it.

On the other hand, however, there is the state America - arrogant, violent, hawkish and extremely intolerant of any dissent or difference. It fights a war in your name, to secure your safety and freedom within and promote 'democracy' abroad (while maintaining a two-party oligarchy in the garb of democracy at home). The 'War on Terror' - an oxymoron in itself, since history has taught us time and again that war in itself is terrorising, especially for people who are unwittingly caught in the crossfire - unleashed in your name to seek revenge for the death of 3000 people has already killed more than a million in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to forget millions others forced to live under the shadows of drone attacks and suicide bombing, thousands others left with maimed limbs and uncertain futures, and millions of children dying due to lack of food and medicines. Osama bin Laden, the man you say was behind the attack, has already been killed in Pakistan in a military operation controversially named after a Native American leader who died saving his land and people from the aliens - in this case, your ancestors. You have even lost more than 6000 American soldiers fighting in your name. There cannot be a better time for introspection on the most important question haunting us all: is the US, and the world, a safer and more peaceful place after 9/11?

I have seen you suffering because of this tragic disconnect between you and your state. I have seen you deny your government the legitimacy to wage a war in your name by holding peace banners in the hundreds of demonstrations across your country since 2001. I have seen you fuming at the hypocrisy of creating Saddam Hussein or Taliban or many other dictatorships across the world, and then fighting them. I felt your indignation when George W Bush lied about the WMDs in Iraq. I have seen your anger at the growing body count, and your helplessness at stopping the cycle of death. I have seen many of you horrified at the ridiculousness of your country being the biggest economy in the world and yet millions of you not being able to afford decent treatment in hospitals. I have seen poverty and homelessness. I have seen your contempt for the corporates, the mainstream media and the culture of violence that your country is now identified with. I have seen you question your government for the massive debt, unemployment, lack of personal liberty, and even rigged elections. I have seen your disappointment at the dream called Barack Obama sadly turning into a nightmare. I have even seen you dream of a new and peaceful world.

In short, I have seen hope.

It is with this hope that I write to you today. I know there cannot be a more apt day for such a conversation. I know that you are as much a victim of an imperialist and greedy government as billions outside your country. I know that you know that the dream of an alternate world is our only hope against the mess that we all are in. I know that you are my fellow comrade in this war against the ideas and ideologues that run your government, and even mine.

I know that you are one of us.

Therefore, on this day, let's make sure that the giant light beams at Ground Zero that will kiss the sky tonight should not look like scary flashlights declaring an arrogant surveillance and ownership of the world, and instead be the beacon of peace, love and humanity that your country can be. I urge you today to stretch your hands and grab that light.
First Published: September 10, 2011, 10:32 PM IST

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