|by Talat Hamdani
May 11th, 2006
Talat Hamdani is a steering committee member of Peaceful Tomorrows. She lost her son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, on September 11th.
I had a very productive and fulfilling time in Japan. Aside from addressing the international symposium for women working for peace, I met the Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the President of New Japan Women’s Association, a representative of Korea Women’s Associations United, several members of the Hibakusha (victims of the atomic bombs), as well as many others. During my travels, I heard varying complaints of the US military presence in Japan that ranged from low flying jet planes to the rape of Japanese women by American servicemen.
The Japanese and many organizations are fighting for Article 9 of their constitution–actually written by the United States– which designates Japan as a peaceful nation, without any nuclear capability. The current Prime Minister is trying to revoke this article. This has generated fear for Japan becoming a war zone once again. USA has 130 military bases in Japan, and there are plans to build a bigger base there in the next few years. The bases are supported by Japan at an annual cost of 45 billion Yens.
• The main thrust of the symposium was in favor of Article 9, and for keeping Japan a war free zone. We agreed to a 3 level program of lobbyig against nuclear arms.
There is much to think about and still much work to do.
I am much honored to be here. I stand before you not only as a woman, but also as the mother of Mohammad Salman Hamdani. Salman had gone down to the World Trade Center that fateful Tuesday on September 11, 2001, to rescue his fellow Americans, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, faith or color of skin. He did not have to go there. But that was my Salman. He could not see anyone in pain or suffering. We can see others suffering, but he could feel it. That is why, as a child, he would always bring home sick animals and birds. He would nurse them back to health and release them. Salman was a former NYPD Cadet, and a certified emergency technician. And he was an American. A naturalized American. A Muslim American. And his faith changed his destiny. And mine, too.
Salman gave the ultimate sacrifice to save his fellow Americans, and ironically, he was investigated as a terrorist. The speculations were floated by the New York media, especially, Fox 5 and its sister company that runs the New York Post. He was investigated only because of his faith. Six months later, on March 20, 2002, we were officially notified that his remains were indeed found by the North Tower. My life took a drastic turn and I found myself in a very complex situation: I found myself not only defending my faith as a Muslim, but also defending my country, America.
Eventually, America honored her citizen Mohammad Salman Hamdani, by acknowledging his courage and sacrifice in the Patriot Act. However, the Patriot Act is an egregious act, curtailing civil liberties and suspending the due process, violating the United Nations treaty on human rights and the American Constitution. The loss of my first born child and the pain of him being investigated as a terrorist generated a lot of anger. Then my husband and I discovered September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in the summer of 2002. And hence started my journey as an activist, as a Muslim American fighting for my rights which were never challenged before 911.
Peaceful Tomorrows is an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn their grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating nonviolent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism. Acknowledging our common experience with all people affected by violence throughout the world, we work to create a safer and more peaceful world for everyone.
The goals of Peaceful Tomorrows are:
To achieve these goals, Peaceful Tomorrows is involved in multiple activities. Our members have visited Afghanistan and Iraq to see the destruction of humanity at the hands of war. They came back and lobbied against the Iraq war. The Eyes Wide Open is a traveling project of more than 10,000 shoes symbolizing innocent civilians killed in the Iraq war. To generate awareness regarding forgiveness, PT is collaborating with the Forgiveness project, which tells the story of victims who have forgiven their perpetrators. Peaceful Tomorrows members walked the halls of Congress lobbying against the war, lobbying for a department of peace, lobbying to change the American foreign and domestic policies towards peace and tolerance, and lobbying for the civil liberties and human rights. And we have been very effective. The Patriot Act was up for renewal last year, and we lobbied very aggressively against few of the clauses which were very wrong. We achieved in modifying these sections, while the rest of the act has been renewed for four years.
On the fifth anniversary of 911, Peaceful Tomorrows is organizing an International Peace Conference. The goal of this conference is to evolve a network of organizations that have chosen to break the cycle of violence, and to create a plan of action that will help us disseminate the ideas that emerge from our gathering.
The terrorists’ attacks of 911 have ushered in an era of suspicion, uncertainty, violence and revenge. America is a great nation. Let me correct myself. America is the greatest nation on this planet. No other nation opens her arms to the world. It is the land of Thomas Jefferson, of George Washington, of Abraham Lincoln, of John F. Kennedy and of Martin Luther King. It is the land of immigrants who are received at the New York Harbor by the Lady carrying the torch of Liberty and holding the Constitution protecting â€œthe poor, tired, huddled massesâ€ˇ landing on her shores. It is the land where on every coin and currency bill is written Liberty and In God we trust. So I wondered what went so wrong that America has become a pariah amongst nations. A country where Justice and Liberty prevailed, is now in a chaos? The safest place for an American is on the American soil. In Iraq, we went as allies and have now become the target of the indigenous people. Neither a land nor their people are evil. It is the policies of a country which generate the feelings of animosity or friendship, and that is where the fault lies. The American policies, especially the foreign policies, need to be more tolerant of other nations. Also, no faith preaches to hate or kill innocent civilians in the name of democracy and freedom. I donâ€™t agree with the justification given by the current government to go to war, because there is no justification to go to a war. IN A CIVILIZED WORLD, WAR HAS NO PLACE. Are we regressing into barbarism? How can you justify killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians?
I am still suffering from the pain of losing one son. There are families that have been wiped out, and what do you tell the survivors? America is helping you by killing your loved ones? I asked my God, who is Raheem, the Merciful; who is Muhaymin, the Protector; who is Hafiz, the Preserver, why didnâ€™t He protect my son and all the other 3000 victims of 911? He is Al-Mani, the Preventor, so why did He not prevent 911 from happening? My husband was so distraught, he couldnâ€™t bear the parting of his son, and he also died on July 21, 2004. But my God is also Al-Adal, the Just One; Al-Ghaffar, the Forgiver and As-Salam, the Source of Peace. He will not be unjust to me, and He has given me peace through forgiveness instead of revenge and vendetta. Life is a mirror: you see you own reflection and receive what you give. Hatred breeds hatred, and love breeds love.
My faith gave me the strength to endure. Islam means peace. In chapter 2, verse 62 of the Holy Quran, it is stated that all those who believe in God, and the Jews and the Christians and the Sabiens, and who are just, and believe in the after life, will go to heaven. The strength of a nation lies in her masses. The Americans are waking up now, and are yearning for peace and justice, instead of war and exploitation and corruption. The verdict of Zacarias Moussaoui is testimony of what America is all about. In the words of Adele Welty, who also lost her son in 911 at The Twin Towers:
Today, America won a victory for freedom and what we call our way. Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison without parole, after receiving a fair trial before a truly impartial judge and juryâ€ It is a proud day for all of us. Justice was served.
The land of the free and the home of the brave will show her true colors. These colors donâ€™t run. The land of immigrants will once again live peacefully, with mutual trust and harmony. However, we need to make a conscious effort to achieve this harmony. The fall out from the terroristsâ€™ attacks of 911 was out of fear and ignorance. Islam was blamed for it and the Muslims all over the world are carrying the cross. Hitler must have had a faith, and Jesus was crucified by his own people. That does not justify discriminating against their entire race. Salman was a casualty of 911 not because he was an NYPD Cadet, nor because he was a Muslim. Salman was a casualty of 911 because he was an American. To discriminate against someoneâ€™s faith or race or ethnicity is immoral and unconscionable. Discrimination and stereo typing has its roots in arrogance and ignorance.
Modern civilization is treading extremely thin waters. The clash of civilizations is taking place once again historically along the fault lines of faith and culture. And unless we donâ€™t take drastic and serious steps immediately to change the course of history, we may become history. The nuclear weapons should be annihilated before they annihilate us. We need to trust each other and respect each others cultures and beliefs. The Holy Quran says that when you see injustice being done, and are aware of it, it is your duty to correct it. The Quran also says neither oppress others nor take oppression. This is my Salmanâ€™s legacy. This is my calling, and I will speak up whenever it is necessary. All of you sitting here are very brave and courageous women. Women are the real source of moral, emotional and spiritual strength. The innocent people who pay the price of war are our children. We had carried them in our womb, and it is our duty as mothers to protect them from harms way. We need to show the warriors the path of compassion and humility instead of indifference and pride; the path of forgiveness instead of revenge; the path of friendship instead of enmity; the path of respect instead of discrimination; the path of Peace instead of War for posterity.
God Bless you all and have mercy on mankind.