Building Unity in the Aftermath of 9/11

September 11, 2018  |   Posted by :   |   Blog   |   Comments Off on Building Unity in the Aftermath of 9/11»

Everyone has their own 9/11 story. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they saw the towers burn. I too, vividly recall the images and the fear on that day. In 2011, I wrote about my experience on the day for the Yale Daily News.

In the aftermath of the event I saw and heard horrible things about Muslims and Arabs in our country. In the years since, the hate seems to have grown and spiraled out of control. Rather than confronting that anger and pursuing the path of hope and healing that could have helped so many, hate, islamophobia and xenophobia are now commonplace in our public discourse.

Fortunately, hate is not the only thing I saw after September 11th. I saw a nation and a world come together to support those hurt in the terrible attack.

In 2001, I was in fifth grade. When the towers fell the firefighters served for months searching for survivors and bodies, and battling the fires at the site. My elementary school PS 234, a few blocks from ground zero, served as an FDNY base into 2002. For my last year of elementary school we were displaced from our building and housed in St. Bernard school in Chelsea.

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Nick and I look up to the Twin Towers.

It made for an unusual year, but thanks to the love, empathy and generosity of strangers it was a year I remember fondly. I remember the countless people who wrote in support to the students of PS 234, sent us gifts and came to speak with us. They came in from everywhere, and let us know we were not alone and that we are loved. We exchanged letters with students from the midwest and received 1,000 paper cranes sent from Japan. We were invited to see the first Harry Potter movie before its release, and First Lady Laura Bush spoke to us in assembly. In my neighborhood Tribeca, our community came together in a new way after 9/11, in recognition of the fact that we are stronger as a community than we ever can be alone.

It shouldn’t take a tragedy to bring us together. It shouldn’t take thousands of deaths to come to one another in the spirit of love. When we let an attack fuel misguided hatred for whole countries, races and religions, I believe that we let the attackers win. If terrorism’s goal is to inspire terror, you are defeated when you let fear take control.

On October 30th, 2017, my life-long friend Nicholas Cleves was murdered in the deadliest attack in New York City since 9/11. Claiming to be inspired by ISIS, an “Islamist terrorist” drove in a rampage down Manhattan’s Hudson River bike path killing Nick and seven others. His death was a devastating loss to me personally, and our community of friends. It was also a tragic reminder of the consequences of hate.

I avoid the word terrorism. The word is too politicized. All attacks bring terror. When a nation attacks in retaliation, that too spawns terror in its victims. Terror begets hate and hate inspires attacks. The only escape I see from this vicious cycle is the embrace of love, forgiveness and community, like I witnessed in New York City after 9/11. The work to combat terror happens every day in communities around the world. It happens in the acceptance of, and service to others, and in the self-sacrifice that it takes to put the interests of your community over your own.

At GCF I am exceptionally proud to work among peers who believe this and adhere to it in word and action; people who work tirelessly to serve others. It is a recognition that every act of violence is terror, that every word of hate is terror, that every injustice is terror. The only way to fight terror is to build unity in our community.
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-Bahij
Development and Communications Manager

The views reflected in this piece are my own.

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