The article “No Dignity at Ground Zero.”

Thanks to e2thec for alerting me to this link. Excellent.

No dignity at Ground Zero

As a US Muslim I abhor the frat boy reaction. We should be celebrating the Arab spring, not this.

I could hear the cheers as I got out of the taxi, two blocks away. I could hear them from right in front of Park 51, the site of a planned Islamic community centre and mosque that met ferocious opposition last year for being too close to the “hallowed ground” of Ground Zero. It was minutes after President Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and I was heeding a friend’s suggestion that we – both Muslims – take candles and stand in vigil where the World Trade Centre stood before Bin Laden’s footsoldiers took it down.

So it was a shock to find hundreds of others had turned that hallowed ground into the scene of a home crowd celebrating an away victory they hadn’t attended, the roots of which they were probably not there to experience or were too young to remember.

There was always something sickening about tourists taking pictures of themselves posing in front of that big gaping hole called Ground Zero. “Me at site of mass slaughter, NYC” as holiday photo caption is wrong in every language, surely. It didn’t take 10 minutes for the frat party atmosphere to sicken me. Olympic-style chants of “USA! USA!” I could just about take as a freshly minted American, as of Friday. But “Fuck Osama! Ole ole ole!” crushed any ambition of dignity for the thousands killed, many of whom had jumped hundreds of storeys to their deaths, their bodies shattered to pieces close to where we stood.

I wanted to stand in vigil, too, for the thousands more killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq as part of the war on terror that George Bush unleashed and Obama hasn’t done much to rein in. I wanted to stand in vigil as a Muslim who just last summer reminded Americans – insisting that Park 51 move “out of sensitivity for 9/11 victims” – that Muslims were also its victims.

Good riddance, Bin Laden. An unwelcome squatter in the house of my religion who tore down all the walls and was prepared to throw them on a fire to keep himself warm. Al-Qaida killed more Muslims than non-Muslims. Anytime it committed an atrocity anywhere, Muslims over here paid for it. My brother, a cardiologist, was among thousands of Muslims visited by the FBI in November 2001 and forced to submit to special registration fingerprinting, his photo and information for ever in homeland security’s files. Hundreds were detained. Hundreds were deported. Profiling.

Good riddance, Bin Laden. I long detested you and knew that when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid last December, he was igniting a fire that would render irrelevantBin Laden the man and his inflated self-importance. When Tunisians overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 29 days and Egyptians Hosni Mubarak in 18 days it was an appropriate rebuke to dictators and Bin Laden. What had become more mesmerising to young people in the Middle East and North Africa: change via revolutionary fervour that has blown apart stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims, or the hate-filled al-Qaida message that falsely promised change through nihilistic violence?

I wanted to have that conversation. But there was only one woman nearby holding candles. In between the dozens of requests for interviews and photos she got, I quickly told her she was the most dignified person there. She was stunned.

I moved to the US a year before 9/11. The day after the attack, a drunk tried to set the local mosque on fire. I first visited Ground Zero in July 2002 and could only cry and pray. “Good riddance, Bin Laden,” I wanted to shout on Monday; but this new American instead quietly recited Al Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Qur’an, with “USA, USA USA” as my backdrop. I recited it for the innocent lives taken in NYC, Washington DC, Shanksville in Pennsylvania, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan – wherever the war on terror left its stains.

The scene at Ground Zero was like a parody of Team America, the film created by the South Park team to parody Bush’s America gone wild on nationalism. Now that we’ve parodied the parody, can the frat boys go home and can we return to the revolutions of the Middle East and north Africa that symbolically killed Bin Laden months ago?

I’m not hearing sympathy for Bin Laden from Muslims and Arabs I know. They’re relieved he’s finally gone. But they’re understandably concerned that media obsession will let him hijack these noble revolutions. One man has been killed; dozens courageously staring down despots are slaughtered every day.

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22 Responses to The article “No Dignity at Ground Zero.”

  1. What has upset me in the years since 9/11 is that Muslims in America are being treated the same as Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. No, they didn’t get thrown into internment camps—we’ve come that far, at least—but the physical and verbal attacks, the vandalism, the taunting, even comments by politicians and professional journalists (Juan Williams is a slimeball—I think he deserved to be fired from NPR) remind me of what my parents went through after the attack on Hawaii. Plus people are so stupid: two elderly Sikh men in a town not far from here were shot while taking a walk; a Sikh cab driver was beaten up by two thugs here in my town. Sikhs are not Muslim, but they cover their heads with a turban, making them targets for the ignorant.

    It just sickens me that in our country, a number of people still think it’s acceptable to attack people on the basis of their religion or race, regardless of the fact they’re US citizens like ourselves, or are contributing members of what’s supposed to be an open society. And I’ll stop ranting now. Sorry, Lauri.

    • Lauri says:

      Please don’t be sorry. I completely agree with you on all points. It’s pathetic.
      I was so very proud of President Bush and so many of the people who stepped up right during and after 9-11 and said “This is not Muslim. This is terrorism.” and they kept reiterating that. Of COURSE many stupid hateful ignorant people would ignore that for their own reasons. Because it makes them feel “big”, because they like to bully, because they just want to cause trouble.
      But the feeling I got immediately after 9-11 was one of most people agreeing that Muslims were not to be treated badly. Good gods, I just hate the fact that there are so many fear-filled hate-filled people “out there”.
      Look inside ANY person, no matter what color, what shape, what religion, what sexual identity and there is a person who wants love, who wants the best for their love-ones, who loves beauty.
      When I was in India with my cousin we were taken around a village to meet the people and to invite them to my cousin’s students’ wedding. (a custom in the go house to house inviting everyone).
      As the only Westerners that most of these folks had seen we were sort of drawing crowds.
      We went to the door of a man, he was probably in his mid-80s. He ran back into the house and brought back a framed 11X14 photo of his 40 year old son who had died in a car accident three years earlier. This man wanted us….and who the heck were we?….but he wanted to share with us the most precious thing in his life. I was so touched I can’t even express it.
      And go anywhere in the world and most people just want to hold their loved ones close, and have shelter and food and live their lives.

      Not a single one of these people should be harassed or beaten or for god’s sake shot. I remember my heart breaking for a little 5 year old boy named Mohammed Ata who was afraid to go to school after the WTC bombings. I hope that the people at that school went to him and told him he was safe and brought him to school and to support from everyone at the school.
      I never heard any more on that story.

      Rant all you want. This world needs more rational ranting.

      • e2thec says:

        But the feeling I got immediately after 9-11 was one of most people agreeing that Muslims were not to be treated badly.

        I felt the exact opposite, due to the profiling and other actions that Eltahawy mentions in her blog post. It was happening in my neighborhood; people I knew were getting harassed, even attacked, though to be fair, the attack that I know about happened in England. (Someone spat in the face of a friend’s sister, calling her a murderer and a devil. She did not retaliate.)

        I felt like there was rampant fear of Muslims and people I knew – otherwise sane individuals – expressed fear and intense anger toward people they did not even know. They were, um, “profiling” people they’d never met. (Includes a very belligerent remark made about 2 of my former teenage students.)

        Maybe people took a live and let live attitude where you are, L, but not in D.C. and NYC! I more than half expected some kind of internment (unlike HG).

    • e2thec says:

      oh, and: people harassed the owners of 2 separate Afghan restaurants in the D.c. area immediately after 9/11. In one case, a 5-year-old girl answered her family’s phone and heard death threats on the other end.

      That’s right, some twisted adult told her that her family was going to be killed.

      A 5 year-old child.

      (never mind the fact that these families came here to make a better life for themselves and their kids.)

      At the bank where I used to go for work, all of the tellers had to wear flag pins whether they wanted to or not. One of the tellers was an Egyptian Christian, another an Algerian Muslim, another Iranian, and then there was a woman from Central America who looked Middle Eastern. I really liked all of them and used to yak with them when things were slow… nobody admitted to being harassed, but I bet they were.

      otoh, the bin Laden family got a free pass out of D.C. in their private jet. am not wanting to imply that any of them had done anything wrong (though I have my suspicions that some of them might have), rather, to emphasize our kid-glove handling of certain Saudis, which I think is all about oil. (I’ve had Saudi students, too, and they were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met – not part of the super-wealthy diplomatic or oil/playboy prince-type sets.)

      • Lauri says:

        Oh crap, see, that is the parts I never heard of. I am talking right after the attacks….we were hearing and seeing people saying “Please don’t blame all Muslims”….and I was impressed with that.

        I know that later and ever since horrible things have happened, all the way down to the Muslim community center near Ground Zero, which should have had NOTHING to do with where it was built. So, there are horror stories everywhere. I am not completely naive about that. I guess whenever I heard people standing up and doing the thing it always impressed me very much and so those moments stood out in my mind.
        Of course I remember the bad things, too.

        • e2thec says:

          imo, the bad things started happening immediately – like the stabbings and beatings of Sikh men on the West Coast (because they wear turbans and were equated with the Taliban and Osama BL, also because people are just plain ignorant).

          Stephen Prothero published a book last year on religious illiteracy in America. while I don’t agree with all of his conclusions (I think he glosses over some thing) I do believe he’s right… because our schools have equated teaching about religion with the actual teaching of religion, we’re lacking. (Unlike a lot of other countries that do teach this stuff.)

        • e2thec says:

          btw, Prothero’s book is very easy reading.

        • e2thec says:

          one other thought: there were lots of verbal/printed attacks (in the Washington Post and elsewhere) on the veracity of “Muslims are not our enemies.” While I can understand that to a degree (we were all afraid!), it didn’t take much for the fear and resentment to take over, imo.

          i remember reading a column by a Jewish jazz musician who had a group with a couple of Arab American musicians. theyw ere playing a gig in CT immediately following 9/11 (within the next week or so) and they started into a piece that was based on one of the scales used in a lot of Jewish religious music.

          The audience turned ugly very fast – some of them started shouting at the group to stop playing that ^$&*%& music and calling the leader a traitor and so on. It could have turned into a mob scene and the musicians were all scared.

          all over a piece of overtly Jewish music.

          i hate to sound so negative, L, but it was just *bad* afterwards. And I don’t mean that everyone felt that way by any means… more that I think a lot of us were afraid to speak. (Esp. after Ari Fleischer made his remark about people who would dare to criticize the president.)

          Conversely, I have an Iraqi immigrant friend in Milwaukee (married to an Irish American woman) who is out there in the community, as a musician, teacher of Middle Eastern music, and as an art gallery owner. They heard nothing but good</b. stuff from people they knew, both friends and patrons of the gallery, etc.

          So there is, I think, an up side to this. It's just that the tensions in the D.C. area were so high (NYC, too) that it was a bad time for everyone. (What with the anthrax attacks and all…. I don't think anyone started sleeping or breathing easily until several months afterward; I know that my stomach just twisted up everytime I took 395 into D.C., because it takes you right past the side of the Pentagon that was hit.)

          • Lauri says:

            It had to be so very different for you folks in the cities directly involved. Most definitely. And I know it was not all sweetness and light everywhere… still isn’t, of course!
            There are still idiots that will use fear to their own ends. (Terrorists, too)

  2. Jaypo says:

    Finally someone has put into words what words failed me with. I was the only one I knew on Monday who was confounded by the adolescent “ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead” rejoicing. It’s tragic, every which way you look it’s tragic. He was a tragic personality; the pain, torment, and agony he caused thousands upon thousands of people is tragic. They still live with it every day of their lives.

    I can’t make a statement on the “justice” of it all, but I can say that blind rejoicing isn’t an indicator of it. Feeling like you’ve “won” isn’t an indicator. There’s too much loss already, on all sides, to feel like something has been “won.”

    • Lauri says:

      Too true, jay.

    • e2thec says:

      thanks so much; you’ve articulated much of what I feel, as has ms. Eltahawy.

      I don’t even feel relief at OBL’s death, as I think he had been a figurehead for a good while… and his death changes – what, exactly? It can’t undo the terrorist attacks in the US and abroad. It can’t bring the dead back to life.

      imo, his death is – at very best – an extremely hollow “victory.”

      And… I do think that Rove and others in the Bush administration were instrumental in getting the American media to run lots and lots of pieces vilifying Muslims. I was very skeptical when Bush and others made their “we’re not against Muslims” claims, as … well. In his speech on (or right after?) 9/11, Bush referred to Bin Laden as “the evil one.” That is evangelical/fundamentalist Christianese for the devil. (I know that lingo all too well; there were some other things in his speech that were totally keyed to that crowd… what’s now the Tea Party wing.) You can’t have it both ways, especially not when you make up a pretext for invading a country (Iraq) out of thin air.

      I don’t think it’s possible to “win” the “war on terror” precisely because it’s not a conventional war. Can we – and others – make progress against terrorism and the conditions that create terrorists? I think the answer is yes, but *not* by invading countries and being so all-fired belligerent. We’re far to quick to start our own little jihads, imo.

      (sorry; I know I sound very cynical, but I am so sickened by what we have done to Iraq and the Iraqi people… and I don’t think we’ve exactly brought hope and help to Afghanistan, war-devastated as it’s been for decades now. Whatever they’d managed to build back up after the Soviets left has been pulled down since then.)


    • e2thec says:

      i’m also sickened by our many, many justifications of torture.

      I want Guantanamo closed, as was promised. Fat chance.

      • Lauri says:

        Torture is just wrong. We were supposed to be above that.

        • e2thec says:

          i guess we found out something about ourselves then… we’ve got our dark side, just like all others.

          to my mind, using – and justifying the use of – torture puts us on the same level as Hosni Mubarak and his corrupt police; even with the terrorists we decry.

    • leendadll says:

      I was appalled and embarrassed by the immature and inappropriate behaviour of those “celebrating”

  3. e2thec says:

    What with the 9/11 attacks anthrax attacks (the latter were super-local) and the Dep’t. of Homeland Security ratcheting up terror alert levels seemingly every other day, it was a very unsettling time.

    I think – as did a lot of other people – that the Bush administration was doing the alert level thing to yank peoples’ chains, not because any of it was true. and it got old VERY fast!

    I didn’t bother reading all the scare articles that were in the papers – the NYT being one – on the possible consequences of a nuclear bomb in a suitcase and all that. Things were bad enough as is without making things worse, even if it was only in our heads… I couldn’t deal with the overload of negative imagery and coverage (includes repeated footage of the WTC being hit + photos of people who had jumped) and kept the TV off for a month. (When I tried watching some of the show I liked – E.R. being one – I felt like the level of tension on the damned shows was too high for me at that time, so I just turned them off…)

    I only looked at the Post and a couple of newspaper websites for the next several months in terms of all news + local coverage on the attacks. Living where I did (less than 4 miles from the Pentagon), the day-to-day stress level was so high that I needed to detox when I was at home.

    fwiw, people really did avoid going out shopping and such (except for groceries and the drugstore and other necessities) until over a month after 9/11. I remember seeing other people out shopping on Columbus Day weekend (it was sunny and very mild) and thinking “Wow! I’d forgotten all about this.” (Meaning: normal life, being around other people in public, enjoying a walk in a public place, etc. etc. etc.)

  4. And unfortunately, we’ll probably be hearing about the whole operation for the next few weeks. I’m already done :p

  5. pyrit says:

    Great comments!
    My two cents: At least the religious fanatics in America don’t kill thousands of people in other countries. They just get talk radio shows and tv shows.

    • e2thec says:

      well… there are some right-wingers who’ve gone to Uganda and worked hand in glove with the people there who want to institute the death penalty for gays and lesbians (The bill died off for a while, but it’s back…)

      The thing is, I doubt many people who hold extreme views (about anything) are terrorists. There were a small number of people in Al Qaeda who were responsible for the deaths of thousands worldwide (including many, many East African Muslims in the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, back in 1998).

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