The following opinion / editorial is written by Faisal Alam. Permission is granted to reprint the article. Acknowledgements of reprinting are appreciated. A bio appears below the Op-Ed.
Written on September 4, 2003
Op-Ed – On the Second Anniversary of September 11th – by Faisal Alam
“Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness, Only Light Can Do That”
As the Second Anniversary of September 11th approaches, it is hard to imagine that there was a world before 9/11/01. Everything we talk about these days somehow relates back to the atrocious attacks on the United States on that fateful day. We all remember where we were and what we were doing. We remember the horrific sight of the World Trade Center collapsing from the sunny skies down to the dark ground, wondering where our loved ones were and if any one we knew had died. At the end of it all, we lost almost 2,800 people and the way we look at the world had changed forever.
As I reflect upon how much the world has changed since September 11, 2001, my mind has trouble thinking about all that has happened – both in the United States and around the world. It would be too simple to go on and on about the number of countries that passed anti-terrorism laws, or to talk about the number of people that the United States has detained or deported since 9/11. It is also too simple to speak about the 1,700 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims and those that were perceived to be Muslim from the year 2000 to 2001. But what is not too simple to discuss is the way that our lives have changed and how most of us perceive the world that we live in today.
The year 2003 marked the 40th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Thousands of people gathered in Washington DC to protest the state of the economy, the number of people unemployed, the lack of social welfare and the war in Vietnam. While a lot changed after this historic march, including the passage of the historic civil rights act and the subsequent women’s rights and “gay” rights movement, today it seems as though nothing has changed after more than 40 years. The civil rights that were enacted seem to have disappeared virtually overnight. Our economy is in a state of flux, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in our history and the state of our social welfare system is in tatters.
For queer Muslims in the United States, the attacks on September 11th brought a keen awareness of what it means to be Muslim in this country. Many queer Muslims had a sudden reawakening of their Muslim identities and for the first time they began to understand that their identity, their culture and their heritage was under attack. From the mainstream “gay and lesbian” press that accused Muslims of being “barbarians” to the editors of these papers who called on queer Muslim activists to “go back to where they came from,” the virulent verbal and written attacks against the queer Muslim community in the US from the wider LGBT world, was atrocious. Furthermore, while many of us were comforted by the valuable blue booklet that gives us the right to be a citizen of the United States, too many people within the queer Muslim community, the queer Arab community and the queer South Asian community, were haunted by the threats hurled from the Justice Department. Countless others were verbally and physically assaulted because of their name, their skin color, and what they chose to wear. We may never know the full extent of what has happened in the United States to immigrants, people of color, poor people and religious minorities; but we know one thing for sure. Nothing will ever be the same.
As the anniversary of September 11th approaches, I also can’t help but reflect upon the world that we live in today and the death and destruction that our government continues to perpetuate to innocent civilians abroad.
Every day the US media churns out statistics and news about the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. But not once since September 11, 2001, have we once heard about the number of civilians killed in both countries. Estimates put the death toll in Iraq alone between 5,000 – 10,000 people. In the previous Gulf war, more than a decade ago, the United States military killed 3,500 civilians, and subsequently stopped keeping track of civilian deaths. Every day we hear about another US military casualty, but not once have we heard about the extent of the “collateral damage” that our government has caused.
The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” While Dr. King was referring to the war in Vietnam, his belief that social welfare was more important than military might, still echoes true today.
As a resident of Washington DC, the capital of the United States and arguably the most powerful city in the world, I am astounded at the number of homeless men, women and children in this city alone. Nationally, in the United States almost 13% of our population or 35 million people live in poverty. Of these 35 million people, almost 12 million are children, accounting for almost 17% of all children in this country. More than 30% of people who call America their home do not have basic health insurance.
Looking at the state of the US today and the world in general, I’m more pessimistic than I have ever been before. I’m also furious at the amount of damage that has been done by the current administration. In the midst of this anger and frustration, I try to hold on to the few threads of hope that are left. I hold on to the support and love for my friends, my colleagues and my boyfriend, who believe in the “beloved community” that Dr. King spoke of. The power of humanity to overcome its hatred and its violence must supercede if we are to create a just and peaceful world that so many of us envision. I believe in the words of Dr. King when he said, “I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.”
Together as people of conscience, people that believe in the power of peace and the justice of human rights, we must overcome the state of terror that we are living in today. Violence and military might only perpetuates the cycle of death and destruction. “Shock and awe” only creates more hatred towards our country and only erodes further the values upon which our country was founded. We must also create a government that takes care of the social necessities of its citizens (and non-citizens), regardless of their income, their social status, their immigration status, their race, gender, sexual preference, their religious and political beliefs, or their sex. We must overcome our prejudices and humble ourselves in light of the power that we have in the world today. Those that use power to oppress and conquer others are surely doomed to destruction, but those that use their power for the betterment of humanity will indeed succeed in creating a peaceful world.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. believed that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We must join hands and eradicate the darkness that has enveloped our world. We must demand government responsibility to counter the social welfare challenges facing our country. And we must stand up and claim the inalienable rights that belong to us as citizens of this world.
As we reflect upon the tragic events of September 11th and as we remember those that we lost, we must also reflect upon the great responsibility we have as a country.
Together we can create change. We can end the destruction that our government is causing around the world. And together, we can create a world that is rooted in peace and justice, a world that truly reflects the dream of a “beloved community.”
Faisal Alam is a 26 year old, queer Muslim activist of Pakistani descent. He is the founder & director of Al-Fatiha Foundation, a US-based organization dedicated to queer Muslims. Under Faisal's leadership, Al-Fatiha has grown to include eight chapters in the United States. Al-Fatiha has received wide media coverage since its inception in 1998 and has been featured in national and international newspapers, magazines, and television programs. Faisal was honored as a "Young Visionary Under 30" by the Utne Reader in 2002 and named as a "Founding Father" byOUT Magazine in 2001. He currently works in the field of HIV/AIDS and resides in Washington DC.
Faisal can be reached through Al-Fatiha at gaymuslims@...