USA Today: How 9/11 Changed Us – Person by Person

September 7, 2011How 9/11 changed us: Person by person

By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY
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Worried mom: Talat Hamdani slept on the living room floor for months after 9/11, waiting against hope for her missing son’s return.

The Hamdani family

Salman Hamdani was born in Pakistan and moved to America with his family in 1980, when he was 1 year old. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he leaves home for his job in Manhattan. When he vanishes, he becomes the subject of a furious search by his family and slurs by anonymous accusers. His mother, Talat, feels victimized by fellow Muslims who killed Salman and by fellow Americans who doubt a Muslim died a hero. As the decade ends, Talat again sees anti-Muslim feelings aroused.

By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

9.11.2001: Salman Hamdani, 23, leaves his family’s home in Queens, heading to his job as a lab tech at Rockefeller University on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He has a Quran in his backpack. From the elevated subway tracks, he must see the smoking World Trade Center towers. He’s an emergency medical technician and has been in the NYPD‘s police cadet program, a sort of ROTC for kids who want to go into law enforcement. He can go to work, or he can head downtown and try to use his credentials to get to the site and try to help.

10.11.2001: Hamdani’s parents board a flight to Mecca where they will pray for the return of their son, who has been missing for a month. They have searched frantically for him since he did not come home the night of 9/11. They’ve visited hospitals, checked the morgue, posted “missing” fliers. (Some were ripped down.) They believe he used his EMT and police cadet credentials to get to the disaster scene. But they just don’t know.

10.12.2001: A New York Post headline asks whether Salman Hamdani is “missing — or hiding.” The paper reports that investigators have issued “an urgent ‘hold and detain’ order for the Pakistani native” and asked his relatives about Internet chat rooms he visited and whether he was political. A source tells the Post the line of questioning “tells me they’re not looking for this guy at the bottom of the rubble. The thing that bothers me is, if he is up to some tricks, he can walk past anybody (using an ID card).” Meanwhile, someone has distributed fliers with Salman’s photo, saying he’s wanted for questioning. Police later say they know nothing about the fliers.

3.20.2002: Two police officers arrive at the Hamdani home to tell Salman’s parents that his remains have been identified in the wreckage of the Trade Center. Talat Hamdani, his mother, has left the front door unlocked for months and slept on the living room floor, waiting against hope for her son’s return.

4.05.2002: Salman Hamdani is praised by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at his funeral at a Manhattan mosque. “We have an example of how one can make the world better,” the mayor says. “Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction. He went in and helped people.”

7.22.2004: Saleem Hamdani, Salman’s father, dies. The medical cause is cancer, but his wife feels he died of a broken heart after losing his son; she regards him as another casualty of 9/11. Saleem Hamdani brought his family to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1980. He owned a convenience store.

11.19.2009: Talat Hamdani supports the Obama administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other accused terrorists in federal court in New York, instead of in a military proceeding at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Hamdani tells CNN: “I trust my justice system, the Constitution, which has been in force in the last 230 years, and I want them tried at home. My son was murdered here, and I want to see them go to trial here, and I want to attend each and every single day.”

5.26.2010: Talat defends plans for an Islamic center and mosque proposed near Ground Zero. When she gets up before a raucous crowd at a Lower Manhattan community planning board hearing, she’s so nervous that she feels as if she’s shaking. But she speaks up: “The mosque at Ground Zero is essential to bring healing to our divided nation. We have to rise above this. We are not at war with the Islam world.” She says she forced herself to speak out in memory of her son.

8.19.2010: Talat says anti-Muslim bias explains much of the opposition to an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. Appearing on CNN, she says Muslims have been assigned “collective guilt” for the attacks, even though they were among its victims: “Since 9/11, the Muslims are being scapegoated … and we are as much the citizens of this country as any other people.” She says she supports the mosque because it’s a test of tolerance and because its proponents have a constitutional right to build it.

3.10.2011: Talat attends the House Homeland Security Committee hearings in Washington on “Radicalization in the American Muslim Community.” The hearings were called by U.S. Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., like Hamdani a Long Islander. She is recognized in the audience by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the only Muslim member of Congress. Ellison opposes the hearings, which he says are “contrary to the best American values.” He says the nation needs “increased understanding and engagement with the Muslim community in order to keep America safe.”

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