By any measure, 9/11 was a seminal event in American history. No time before since 1812, especially in the post-World War II period, has an attack of this magnitude, killing so many, been brought to the doorsteps of the USA. Even the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor some six decades earlier pail in comparison to the casualties and devastation wreaked by this particular event. It was shocking and unbelievable that America's symbols of prosperity and power - the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC) and the Pentagon - could be attacked by passenger airplanes which were reportedly hijacked and diverted from their scheduled paths to strike those sites.
From published reports some 2752 people died in those two WTC towers. Forty people (all passengers of the United flight # 93) are believed to have died in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and 184 in Washington D.C. (including 59 passengers of the American flight # 77).
For too long the USA appeared simply immune to attacks on its mainland, protected on the two sides by the two great oceans. Its lone uncontestable hyper power status has given that aura of immunity, and with that the hunter spirit and hauteur that is oblivious of the pains it inflicts on others. To many neutral observers of history, 9/11 appeared to be a slap to that very sense of pride and overconfidence - the hunter itself was attacked by those hunted for years. Interestingly, the coordinated attacks were not perpetrated by a hostile country, but reportedly by non-governmental actors of a militant group - al Qaeda -- that had been at war with the USA and its allies in the Muslim world since 1998. Its architect was a former CIA operative! And so were some other planners!
It was not a state sponsored terrorism, and yet the hunter - the USA -- bruised and embarrassed from 9/11 attacks, quickly decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 to set scores right. Drawing support from the Bible, Bush and Cheney even called the invasion "just" war. No nation was so savagely and sadistically attacked as those two countries were where more than a million innocent civilians, who had nothing to do with 9/11, were murdered, churned or pulverized by the brutal power of the USA and its NATO allies. Millions of Iraqi and Afghan civilians - old and young - were injured and their towns and villages destroyed or obliterated. That savagery, conveniently termed the "Global War on Terror" continues to this very date, spreading beyond the original targets!
Of all the years since the seminal day of 9/11 in 2001 I can't recall any year when the event was more profoundly and solemnly observed than this year. The tragic day is not observed as a national holiday yet here in the USA but is observed as a day of national mourning with moments of silence. Nominally, the day would be observed with the names of those who had died in the tragic event read in the three sites where the four airplanes, reportedly hijacked by 19 terrorists, struck - the WTC towers (now called the Ground-Zero), Shanksville and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
This year, however, 9/11 fell on Saturday, which made it possible to commemorate the day with added emphasis that was simply impossible on weekdays. But what made this year's 9/11 more significant than ever before was that the event this year at one time appeared to be hijacked or, mildly speaking, exploited by right-wing extremists, fascists and bigots within the American population. More problematic is the criminal and highly despicable role of many Republican leaders who are in the business of selling fear and hatred against Muslims and Islam.
For the terrorist attack by the few the entire faith of the alleged perpetrators was attacked. Islam, the faith of nearly one-quarter of humanity, was equated with terrorism. Its scripture - the Qur'an - which had united people to the worship of One True God (Allah) away from the insinuation of the devil (Satan), and freed billions of people from the tyranny and despotism of the few, and emancipated former slaves and women, considered the lowest of the low with little to no rights, was depicted as the 21st century's Mein Kampf. In that lunatic hysteria, the accusers were amnesic about their own government's complicity to terrorism; how their governments used abduction, torture, assassination, corruption and wars as means to occupying one Muslim country after another and killing and terrorizing millions of innocent Muslims who refused to become happy slaves and occupants and would rather defend freedom, dignity and sovereignty against true terrorism.
On the ninth anniversary of the attacks a Christian Church - the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida - planned to burn hundreds of the Qur'an. Terry Jones, the media-hungry pastor and bigot of an obscure church with records of unethical practices, said, "We are not hateful toward Muslims. We are not aiming this at Muslims, we are aiming this at Sharia law." With support from the right-wing media and hateful priests and bigots like Franklin Graham, John Hagee, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich and others, he soon was able to hijack the agenda of 9/11. Islamophobia and anti-Muslim passions were aroused by these bigots to paint a distorted image about Islam and its eight million Muslim Americans whose 40% members are native White, Black and Hispanics. Poisoned by such hatred and animosity, many communities are objecting to having mosques or Muslim community centers in their midst. A proposed Muslim cultural center in Lower Manhattan was claimed to be a "threat" to American values and an abomination or insult to the so-called hallowed Ground-Zero.
Hatred sells, especially when mainline politicians exploit it to further their ignoble political aims. Hatred against Islam and the Muslim community has entered political discourse and is now spewed by mainline politicians; it is not an isolated issue or the act of a remote fringe group. Scores of Muslim houses of worship were attacked in the days leading up to this year's 9/11. No time before in the last few years has the Muslim community in the USA felt this vulnerable and insecure.
In that wave of hatred and Islamophobia, forgotten in the calculation were potential reactions of such sacrilegious activities like the Qur'an-burning in the Muslim world, especially in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, where a sizeable number of U.S. armed forces continue to stay, even nine years after the American tragedy. Thus, within hours of the anniversary came outrage and condemnation of the intended bonfire with the Qur'an from many concerned groups, including the Obama administration. Even the Secretary Gates had to make a call to this nut Jones to reason with him that his hateful activity, although constitutionally acceptable, was going to be counterproductive and would harm members of the U.S. armed forces. Eventually the pastor, much to the relief of the Pentagon and the White House, relented and said that he had dropped the plan of burning the Qur'an.
This drama with the Qur'an burning showed how flawed the western liberal democracy is. It is insensitive to religious bigotry. A hateful bigot or a crazy nut can entice people to do things that are offensive or blasphemous to a religious community, and create an atmosphere for intolerance and bigotry, which may inevitably lead to violence, and yet he or she is protected by a "liberal" constitution where the right to free speech is enshrined. A greedy and depraved writer or author can write an article or a book selling hatred, promoting bigotry and intolerance, stoking fear against a community or create an environment which can lead to violence, and yet these "intellectual" terrorists are not only protected by the constitution, they are often times honored (including knighted) and bestowed citizenship in those countries. These intellectual pimps and prostitutes can toy with the lives of so many individuals around the world and nothing can be done for their accountability to the harm that they bring about. The same liberal democracy has no problem in making pre-emptive strikes, killing not only the suspected or potential 'terrorists' that unmask the obvious hypocrisy of the West without the process of a fair trial in an open court but also many innocent people around them who had nothing to do with those human targets.
If these bigots, merchants, messengers and promoters of Islamophobia think that they can erase the Qur'an, the last revelation of God to mankind, by simply burning or banning it, they ought to know that there are millions of Muslims who have memorized the entire Qur'an by heart. From the very first days of Islam in Arabia when the Prophet Muhammad (S) received the revelation from Allah, there has never been a shortage of such memorizers of the Qur'an. No bonfire of the Qur'an can destroy that memory and erase the last revelation from God.
Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored nine books. His book: "Democracy, Politics and Terrorism - America's Quest for Security in the Age of Insecurity" is available at Amazon.com.