9-11 Essay

The late Edward Said in his last series of lectures Humanism and Democratic Criticism defined the role of modern Humanists and their responsibilities to society. This is one of my favorite lines from the lectures:

“Nowhere is this more true for the American humanist today, whose proper role, I cannot stress strongly enough, is not to consolidate and affirm one tradition over all others. It is rather to open them all, or as many as possible, to each other, to question each of them for what it has done with the other, to show how in this polyglot country in particular many traditions have interacted and—more importantly—can continue to interact in peaceful ways, ways never easy to find but nonetheless discoverable also in other multicultural societies…in other words, American humanism, by virtue of what is available to it in normal course of its own context and historical reality, is already in a state of civic coexistence, and, to the prevailing worldview disseminated by U.S officialdom…humanism provides little short of stubborn, and secular, intellectual resistance.”

Where are we as Americans 10 years after the September 11th attacks? Have we espoused the principles of egalitarianism, understanding, and brotherhood with our fellow Americans and the Citizens of the global community? Or have we grown more isolated, introverted and developed enclaves of seclusion? The most promising signs after 10 years after the attacks have been interfaith growth and cultural understanding between previously opposing or isolated communities. In the realm of culture we have seen Muslims starting to come into their own, from actors, comedians, poets, playwrights, rappers, and writers. We are starting to see Muslim-Americans take hold of their own narrative— The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 30s revitalized and rejuvenated the African American community in America. A young poet wrote The Negro Speaks of Rivers:

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset.


I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.


My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

In the post-post-modern, post-Arab Spring era, we will see a Muslim Renaissance but it will not be in Cairo, Manama, Beirut, or Islamabad. The Muslim Renaissance will be in New York, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, and California. Our Langston Hughes, promises to revitalize the Muslim community in America, but within the era of globalization and instant communication, his voice will echo in the caves of Afghanistan.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to serve on a panel about David—The Movie at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in the Upper West Side. The movie follows the son of an Imam who, due to unexpected circumstances and misplaced identity, befriends a group of Orthodox Jewish boys. Though I felt the movie portrayed and magnified stereotypical Muslim characters, leaving the audiences to empathize with non-Muslim counterparts, it did an unbelievable job of tacitly addressing the Muslim-Jewish issues and creating a humanizing effect. This portrayal will hopefully open the door for dialog and understanding from both communities.

The Muslim community has also started to take hold of its own narrative—Fordson: The Movie (recently screened by the Islamic Center at NYU) follows a group of Muslim American high school students and documents their struggle with football and identity. This movie was recently shown at the State Department and there have been requests from the Military to conduct screenings for the troops. Domestic Crusaders, the critically acclaimed play by Wajahat Ali, follows the lives of Muslim characters and their struggles with identity in America. A witty and insightful play is the best means by which a community can engage and wrestle with difficult topics. Dirty Paki Lingerie (self explanatory) also attempts to address the topic of identity in America. Edward Said wrote “American humanism, by virtue of what is available to it in normal course of its own context and historical reality, is already in a state of civic coexistence.” This civic coexistence allows us the view the other and ourselves in a more critical light, to understand what we have done to each other. David, Fordson, and Domestic Crusaders are all playing in tenth-year commemorations of 9/11.

The cultural, poetic, and political giant Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote, “Even though Culture cannot transcend the limitation of a given social structure, it can certainly lag behind it.” Culture is limited in its ability to hold, uplift, and nurture the human spirit. Justin Mashouf’s movie, Warring Factions, follows break dancers in Iran (Tehran) and does more to create bridges between Iran and the United States then any elected official is capable of doing.

The underlying social structure must also be addressed. Unfortunately this new culture is formed from the ashes of the thousands of victims that have died and continue to die in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and United States. The ten-year anniversary also marks a decade of war, terror, destruction, and deception. The recent revelation that the NYPD has been working with the FBI and the CIA to covertly and unethically monitor the Muslim community marks the destruction of civil liberties in America. The Muslim community must not let this blatant violation of our rights go unchallenged. Islamophobia has reached a new peak in Europe and the United Sates. Park51 (The Ground Zero Mosque), the first Muslim Community Center in downtown Manhattan, received vehement responses of bigotry and hatred from the political Right in the United States. Culture can help change these attitudes, but issues of global social inequality must be addressed.

The day Osama bin Laden was assassinated I was planning to speak to a group of students at Park51. The students were part of a religious and cultural dialog project taking students to different centers of faith in NYC. I went to the community center early—expecting a crowd of protesters—and expecting to possibly have to cancel the student visit. I found just one gentleman standing in front of the center with a 15th foot pole and a flag of the Twin Towers. Spectacle and worried, I approached the gentleman and asked, “What are you doing here”?

He claimed to be firefighter during the attacks. He replied: “I came to pay my respects.” and paused. “Its’ over, it’s finally over.”

The workshop with the students was a success—Ten years after the attacks, we have much to reflect upon.


About The Author

Naqi Haider

Naqi Haider was born in Pakistan and raised in New Jersey. He received his Bachelors in Biotechnology with a concentration in Philosophy from Rochester Institute of Technology. While in Rochester, he was one of the co-founders of a non-profit group focused on community growth and development. He is pursuing a Masters in Biomedical Science and conducting research in computational visual neuroscience at Mount Sinai Medical School. He is a poet and an activist. He strongly believes in the role of community service in overall health and progress. He is currently on the board of the Muslim Students’ Association and is involved in various local and national initiatives all relating to community empowerment.

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09 2011

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