No Sense of Closure for Many South Asians a Decade After 9/11

September 11, 2011

No Sense of Closure for Many South Asians a Decade After 9/11

By Sujeet Rajan – International Business Times
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NEW YORK: On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the South Asian diaspora in the United Statescontinue to grapple with the repercussions that emanated and continue to haunt to this day. Like the issue of racism that never went away despite the abolition of slavery, and
African Americans feel victimized to this day, it is now an established fact that the attacks of 10 years ago carved a new identity — loaded with suspicion — for the Brown people residing in this country.

The chief perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden, may be dead, but there is no sense of closure for the South Asian community, especially the Muslims and the Sikhs.

The South Asian community has been the victims of dozens of attacks in the last 10 years. The sense of an imminent terrorist attack may have diminished after a decade of terrific intelligence gathering by the federal authorities, but the community continues to be pensive. There is
palpable perception that it is a matter of time before there is another terrorist attack somewhere in the country. And it would be déjà vu all over again; backlash, persecution and increased scrutiny of desis.

The community has tried to sum up its feelings and tried to analyze the predicament of the Diaspora through various channels, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Two plays, Barriers by Rehana Lew Mirza, and Invasion! By Jonas Hassen Khemiri, focus on the theme of identity and the bitter plight of the South Asian community in a post 9/11 world.

Mirza’s excellent play puts the spotlight on a South Asian family’s loss from the 9/11 attacks and the backlash they endure. Barriers is set four months after the 9/11 attacks and revolves around the Chinese/Pakistani Abbas family and the loss of their eldest son Nabhil who had been in the
WorldTradeCenter during the attack.

When Sunima, the Abbas’s only daughter, comes home to announce her pending engagement to a White man — she finds her joyful news lost in a mire of household problems and quickly becomes trapped in the shared family loss that was never dealt with. As this multi-cultural family
begins to fragment, they begin to piece together the past each one hides, and the future they all share.

Invasion! is a subversive comedy about identity and stereotypes, centering on “Abulkasem,” a name mysteriously belonging to a wide assortment of characters in the play, leaving one to wonder, “Who is Abulkasem?” Is he a character in a fairy tale, or an international super-spy?
Is she a renowned auteur director? Does he/she pose a clear and present danger? And is there really more than one?

This sense of forging a new identity for the South Asian community, as a possible terrorist in waiting or hiding, as depicted subtly in Khemiri’s brilliant play, is what has most community groups in the country bothered, and been the focus of a lot of brainstorming this past decade.

Deepa Iyer, Executive Director of the Washington, DC, -based South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), has been in the forefront of a campaign called “An America for All of Us.”
She has identified themes around community building and resiliency in the midst of the post 9/11 crisis. In speeches across the country, Iyer has reflected on the current tide of xenophobia and Islamophobia, and previewed upcoming reports on profiling and backlash faced by South Asian

“For South Asian, Sikh, Muslim and Arab American communities, the grief that we felt on September 11th was quickly compounded with a sense of fear and uncertainty as reports of backlash, hate violence and scapegoating began to emerge,” said Iyer. “The 10-year anniversary is a time for us to remember, reflect, and renew our country’s commitment to fundamental values of inclusion, equality and diversity.”

This week, spearheaded by Iyer, more than 70 diverse organizations, including national civil rights, human rights, civil liberties, Muslim, Jewish, and South Asian groups signed on to a “statement of shared principles,” calling for, among other things: recognition of the critical importance of combating terrorism without casting blame or suspicion or alienating any particular community; greater partnerships between communities and law enforcement; respect for diversity, fairness, and tolerance, and commitment to protect fundamental freedoms and basic human rights; and a respectful, evidence-based, public discourse that will foster reasoned and constructive policymaking.

For most families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, the anniversary is wrought with painful memories, but some have moved on. They want to resurrect America from the vicious cycle of hatred that followed the terrorist attacks, with a Sikh gas station worker in Arizona, Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first fatal hate crime victim.

Talat Hamdani, mother of a first responder that was killed during the 9/11 attacks and Board Member of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, points out that nearly 3,000 Americans were killed on 9/11.

“They were casualties of 9/11 simply for being Americans, casualties of hatred and intolerance. As a nation, we must not give in to this same mind-set. The first responders who rushed to rescue them transcended the barriers of race, faith and ethnicity. As a tribute to all those that died that
day, we need to transcend these barriers as well and reset our moral compass,” says Hamdani.

Deborah Lauter, National Civil Rights Director at the Anti-Defamation League, opines that 9/11 was the date that hate became everyone’s problem.

“Americahas struggled to find the right balance between protecting our nation from terrorist attacks and protecting individual rights. On this 10th anniversary we can take satisfaction in the fact that America’s democratic principles have broadly withstood this challenge. But the fight
against hate remains critical as we seek to preserve the values and ideals we most cherish inAmerica,“ says Lauter.

The question of race and ethnicity in the wake of the 9/11 attacks is analyzed in depth in a journal published by the Indiana University Press in partnership with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at The Ohio State University, this week, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

The journal includes academic pieces, as well as a collection of first-person narratives from individuals representing the Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian communities.

Vijay Prashad’s “The Day Our Probation Ended,” probes the broader implications of imperialism. In “Welcome Mat and Spiked Gate: Two Stories of Immigrants in theUnited States,” activist Sayu Bhojwani urges for a course correction in the face of immigrant backlash.

Sabrina Alimahomed’s “Generation Islam: Arab American Muslims and Racial Politics after September 11,” draws on research and interviews with over 60 young adult Muslims living in Los Angeles, California. “Just Don’t Act Muslim:” Reflections from a Queens-based Community Organizer,’ by Annetta Seecharran describes how a community organization had to shift into crisis-mode post-September 11.

Soniya Munshi writes about the challenges faced by domestic violence survivors in “Multiplicities of Violence: Responses to September 11 from South Asian Women’s Organizations,” and one of the best pieces is by Amardeep Singh, the co-founder of The Sikh Coalition, who writes of his journey towards activism in “The Accidental Activist.”

The USgovernment knows only too well that their job of countering terrorism and its backlash is two-fold, overseas and on the domestic front. Members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, tried to highlight the work done by the government to
counter the hate crimes in the country.

The members acknowledged the aftereffects of the 9/11 tragedy also saw a rise in hate crimes against American Muslims, Arab Americans, and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim.
They said the Federal Bureau of Investigation found a 17-fold increase in hate crimes against American Muslims immediately after 9/11. They highlighted that the Department of Justice has investigated more than 800 incidents involving violence, threats, vandalism and arson, obtaining
47 convictions.

But ultimately it is the youth who will decide how long this vicious cycle of hate will remain in the country. And people like Sahar Khan, an undergraduate student at the City University of New York, will be the ones who may end up making a big difference in the mind sets of at least
a few more people in theUnited States.

The Asian American/ Asian Research Institute (AAARI) of the City University of New York (CUNY) selected Khan as the recipient of the 2011 CUNY Thomas Tam Scholarship, for a project that promoted the teaching of the Muslim culture, literature and philosophy of Islam to the mainstream.

The recognition for Khan’s and the earlier decision by New York Cityto give the go-ahead to the mosque at Ground Zero indicate that New Yorkis ready to move on 10 years after it was attacked. It remains to be seen if the rest of the country will follow suit or not. (Global India Newswire)

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