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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brief Reflections on 9/11 -- and Thanks

Newyorker On 9/11/01, I was a first-year law student at GW Law in DC. I was sitting in class, actually, when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit by the hijacked planes.  As Justice Stevens noted in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, "Americans will never forget the devastation wrought by these acts."  I walked past K Street, which was effectively a parking lot, on my way to the Metro.  The train was crowded, but no one spoke.  We all sat silently.  Still, there was this palpable, tangible feeling of togetherness, of collective sadness for what had transpired, and fear for what may be forthcoming.  There was some degree in comfort in knowing that we were all feeling these admittedly terrible emotions -- individually, but simultaneously as one.  Overriding these sentiments was, at least in me, a sense of optimism in the nation to respond swiftly and appropriately.  "I believe in America" -- the first line from The Godfather and the dominant theme in my mind as I rode home.  My hope for today, and subsequent moments, is that we recapture that sense of national oneness -- which we clearly are capable of possessing, but which has dissipated over time and which has been displaced by partisan, social, and religious division.

When I did make it to Maryland, I checked my email, as many did, to view messages from friends as to whether they were "okay."  To my shock and utter dismay, I received emails of a different sort -- members of my religious community, Sikhs, were being harassed, threatened, and assaulted.  Sikh males, it turns out, wear turbans and beards in accordance with the religion's requirements.  This superficial link with bin Laden made Sikhs an accessible proxy for American rage and desires for revenge on that day -- and for ten years since.   (Just yesterday, for example, a Sikh-owned business was vandalized with the words "9-11 Go Home.")   Sikhs, as Yale's Muneer Ahmad has noted, suffered the "disproportionate brunt" of post-9/11 violence. 

The tenth anniversary of the attacks have been marked by op-eds, email blasts, and events held by various entities -- including community-based organizations, universities, think tanks, interfaith organizations, and public interest  organizations.   Some have utilized the anniversary, understandably, to criticize the government's post-9/11 decisions.  There is a lot to complain about (e.g., rights of detainees, airport screening, selective immigration enforcement, etc.), and these issues deserve attention. 

For Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, problems with the government's response to the terrorist attacks are not the whole story.  Securing one's rights is one thing, changing the public's attitudes is entirely another.  One is reactive and ad hoc, the other is proactive and preventative.  I have read a lot of relevant materials, but have not come across any -- readers please feel free to correct me in the comments -- tenth-anniversary commentary from these communities speaking to what they affirmatively intend to do differently to enhance social views and norms as to Muslims or Sikhs in the United States.  Advocating for rights is necessary, but not sufficient, to shift the climate that these groups face. 

In an essay that the Center for Public Leadership will publish this week, I encourage Sikhs to leave their comfortable clusters and become ambassadors of the faith in their neighborhoods, by being more directly and visibly involved in their local civic life.  A problem that I see, in terms of the post-9/11 rights of Muslims and others, is that we have failed to present a viable alternative to the general perception of Muslim identity.  Such active participation of all Muslims and Sikhs -- as opposed to the delegation of responsibility to advocacy organizations to improve things, which invariably will have a limited focus on legal rights -- should be a central objective of these groups for the next ten years.  My hope therefore is that the next phase of the post-9/11 civil rights movement will be a more internal, honest assessment as to what we can do on day-to-day basis to change the hearts and minds of the public. 

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This is my final post as a guest-blogger.  Many thanks to Dan for the opportunity to share some of my passions -- hockey, The Wire, and post-9/11 civil rights -- with the readers.  I'm honored to have been part of this wonderful forum.  I hope my posts have been interesting and to the extent I fell short of this goal I apologize.

Posted by Dawinder "Dave" S. Sidhu on September 11, 2011 at 11:58 PM | Permalink

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