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Healing, Hope And Humanity: Reflections On The 10th Anniversary Of 9/11


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Secretary General of World Sikh Council - America Region | Columbus, OH
Posted: 08:41 PM | September 07, 2011
Healing, Hope and Humanity: Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

Several weeks ago I was visiting my doctor. On entering the small waiting room, a three-year-old child playing in the corner looked up at me and exclaimed to his mother "Mom -- there is the bad guy."

Then silence descended on the waiting room. There were only the three of us in the room -- the child, his mom, and me. The child went back to playing with the Legos. The mom and I silently looked at each other for a few minutes or so but it seemed like eternity.

What could one say to a three-year-old who shared what was on his mind? How could I get mad at this little child for exhibiting such prejudice? These are the questions that went through my mind and probably through the mind of the embarrassed mother.

But soon my thoughts shifted to the ill-fated morning of 9/11/01. I remember being in New Hampshire that morning getting ready to go to the Boston airport for a flight back home. The horrific news of the attacks was shocking and disgusting.

The Boston airport was shut down and I was told to drive my rental car home -- all the way to Ohio. So I began the journey home on the evening of 9/11. Nearly all myfellow travelers were courteous and understanding except one who screamed at me and showed me half of a peace sign...

While driving home I recollected the following verse from Siri Guru Granth Sahib -- the Sikh scripture (English translation):

Merciful God, keep all beings and creatures in Your care.
Give them an abundance of grain and water; eliminate their pain and poverty; ferry them across.
The Great Benefactor heard our cry; the parched earth was rendered green and my smoldering heart was made cool.
Keep us in Your Embrace; remove all obstructions.
Nanak, stay immersed in the Name and be forever fulfilled

America was attacked on 9/11 by terrorists who used their twisted interpretations of Islam to justify their horrible deeds. That was not the only attack on America. Muslims and anyone who looked like them were attacked soon thereafter to cleanse America of these terrorist look-alikes.

Observant Sikh men wear the turban in the public as a religious head covering to cover their hair. Islam does not require Muslim men to wear a turban. Rarely does a Muslim American man wear a turban on a regular basis. In fact, if you see a man wearing a turban on the street, you can be quite sure that he is a Sikh.

However, repeated media images of Muslim radicals from Middle East countries wearing turbans were enough to arouse the passions of a backlash. Soon after 9/11, many Sikhs became Muslim in the eyes of some of our misinformed fellow Americans.

One of the first casualties of this backlash was a Sikh gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona -- Balbir Singh Sodhi. He was gunned down on Sept. 15 in a drive by shooting. His attacker, Frank Roque, fatally shot Balbir five times and then proceeded to take his vengeance on a Lebanese worker, as well as a local Afghan family.

When arrested by police at his home, Frank shouted, "I'm a patriot ... I'm an American; arrest me and let those terrorists run wild?" as he was led away in handcuffs.

The wheels of justice may be slow but they do turn. In 2003 Balbir’s murderer was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to the death penalty. Balbir’s family then requested a pardon for Frank Roque from the death penalty.

Balbir's brother was quoted in a newspaper report: "We have lost our Balbir and have suffered the intense pain of losing him. Now we realize that the same would be the case with family of Frank, which we don't want. What is the crime of his family?"

In 2006, the Arizona Supreme Court overturned Frank’s death sentence and instead sentenced him to life in prison.

What an honorable and gracious act of love by a brother towards the murderer of his loving brother. This reminds me of the eternal forgiveness that Sikhs are called upon to uphold. It is said that a Sikh will forgive in a moment but not forget in a hundred years.

There have been countless attacks on Sikh places of worship as well as individuals. Fortunately, such incidents have largely been aberrations for the large majority of Sikhs. We continue to live among our fellow Americans of all (and no) faiths proudly upholding the values and traditions of our faith as laid down by the Sikh Gurus.

Since 9/11 we have seen the increased visible presence Sikh civil rights organizations and activists. Sikhs have always been a strong community but now we are more empowered because of their tireless efforts.

But more needs to be done. Many Sikhs will declare authoritatively (and rightfully so) that Sikhs are not Muslims. It is true that prejudice against Sikhs is misdirected. However dealing with misdirected prejudice does not mean that we should be spared at the expense of our fellow Muslim Americans.

We should take inspiration from the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahaadar, who gave up his life in 1675 to protect the practices of the Hindu faith, even though he did not believe in those practices. Sikhs, as well as believers of other faiths, need to continue to stand in solidarity with Muslims to reduce Islamophobia in our country.

By now, the embarrassed mother and I had silently looked at each other for more than a few minutes. Then she gracefully hugged the child and looked at me. She asked about me and my family. I shared a photo of our three kids. And then I stumbled onto a BlackBerry photo of our five-year-old son holding a rock bass that he had caught the day before on a fishing trip. The boy was thrilled to see this and exclaimed, "Mom -- when can I go fishing?" By then it was my turn to see the doctor. As I left my chair, the mom and son together waved at me exclaiming: "Good bye good guy!"

The child's mom did not verbally apologize to me during our encounter. She did more than that. She responded by asking us to share our humanity with each other so the innocent child could feel the human passion and be freed of prejudice.

Here lies the lesson for all of us. While, as a community, we all are healing from the aftereffects of 9/11, our hope for the future lies in our shared humanity. The edifices of religious prejudice and hate are built upon foundations of dehumanization of the religious other. It is time for us to re-humanize our fellow human beings to develop increased mutual respect and promote shared security. We are only as secure as the least among us.

Siri Guru Granth Sahib proclaims this universality (English translation) as:

No one is an enemy, no one is a stranger. I get along with all.
I have forgotten my jealousy of others, since I found the company of the spiritually enlightened.
Whatever God does, I accept that as good. This is the sublime wisdom I have obtained from the spiritually enlightened.
The One God pervades all. Gazing upon God, beholding God, Nanak blossoms forth in happiness.



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Mai Harinder Kaur

Oct 5, 2006
British Columbia, Canada
Can you imagine 2,819 innocent people killed for no reason except some other people were filled with hate? What kind of people could do such a thing?! Surely thousands killed could never be forgotten. And who could possibly expect the survivors and the families to ever recover? The old life is gone and the new one difficult and sad.

Don't say that time heals all wounds. Time heals nothing. If the wounds are not properly treated, they can get infected and cause a slow, painful death. Recovery is slow and difficult and uncertain, but we are a resilient species and most are able to go with their lives, live with that huge, gaping hole that never goes away. It is good that we are surrounded by compassionate, caring people that are willing to help with the healing process, that do not advise us to "get over it and move on." They see that that is simply impossible. Of course, there are those who are not caring and compassionate, who ****** the healing with their coldness and even hared. They have their own problems. We avoid them and ignore them as best we can.

What cannot be recovered we learn to live with. We learn to laugh and enjoy ourselves again, live full, useful lives, contribute to society, move forward. We work hard and eventually get to the point that it all becomes a constant presence in the back of the mind, not something always in front of our eyes. It is a part of us, but not the only part. We rediscover our humanity, in fact find a deeper humanity than we had before.

At some wonderful point, we may realise that our beloved dead want us to be happy, not to spend our lives in gloomy mourning, but to again enjoy the simple beauty of life, a child being amazed at the glow of a lightening bug, delighted at the purr of a kitten, swooning at the deliciousness of chocolate, laughing uncontrollably at old Three Stooges movies, again sleeping the sleep of the innocent. We may reach that point. It is not impossible. It is possible.

Not forgetting. Overcoming. This we hope for. This we pray for. This is my wish for all survivors of whatever tragedy life has brought them. Please stop a moment and sing along with Pete Seeger and his many friends.

(Note: Pete Seeger is a great overcomer, but that's a story for a different time.)

Pete Seeger 90th Birthday Celebration - We Shall Overcome - YouTube


Number of families who got no remains: 1,717
( this is heart breaking )

I cannot imagine how it would be to have no physical remains. Of course, I lost mine, but I saw the bodies and that is very important. Their ashes would have been scattered anyway. I vaguely remember some sort of memorial in Montreal, but everything at the point is foggy-blurry.

We are a strange species. This is so important, to have a body, a funeral. We pretend it's for the dead, bur in fact, they are gone, beyond our remembrances; they're really for the living.

This brings to mind a song I haven't thought of in at least 40 years:

I cannot buy you happiness, I cannot by you years;
I cannot buy you happiness, in place of all the tears.
But I can buy for you a gravestone, to lay behind your head.
Gravestones cheer the living, dear, they’re no use to the dead.

Here is a 1967 music video of the song, I would guess it would qualify as one of the first music videos.

Buy For Me The Rain Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Early Video - YouTube

I seen to be overflowing with meaning and depth today, eh? I started out thinking about how USAers make such a big deal of 911 and show no compassion toward those in other places who suffered needlessly at the hands of others. Somehow, it changed, my thoughts and attitude changed as I wrote. I saw how much I had learned and how much I have to share with these who suffered personal losses in 911.

After 911, several people became very angry at me because I didn't show the proper horror of the events of that day. I bought us breakfast at McDonald's and we bought a pizza to bake for dinner. There was no way at that time I could express what was in me. I couldn't even allow myself to feel much of anything. Not only the obvious, but also the fact that a son of Simon, my current husband, had been killed in a car wreck in Kenya (drunk driving) on June 10 and I was trying to care for a basketcase husband. I was not yet ready, even in 2001, to look at my own feelings, but Simon's grief and then airplanes flying into buildings was just too much. I went numb, which appeared as coldness to others.

Now, please, let the healing continue, accelerate. The scars will remain, but we can choose to become stronger, freer, more determined, more loving - if we choose to move in that direction. Or we can become fearful, enslaved, defeated, bitter. The choice is up to us, individually and collectively. I know which choice I have made.

Onward to the future! welcomekaur welcomemunda

Inderjeet Kaur

Oct 13, 2011
Seattle, Washington, USA
i would suggest the mother say, "No, sweetie, he is a good man. He is your doctor and he is a good man." Then give the child a reassuring hug and then a big smile from the "bad man" who is now a "good man." And ice cream for all!

Three year olds are not stupid. They learn quickly, especially from the mother.



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