Farhan Janjua is FutureChallenges’ Regional Editor for the Middle East and is based in Pakistan.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I feel moved to write about what we felt back then and how these terrorist attacks have affected our all lives. Yes, 9/11! A major icon of our times that has changed the lives of countless thousands of people across the world.
I remember I was returning to my parents’ house in my home-town of Lahore in Pakistan when I first heard the awful news on TV. I was only 12 years old at the time and hadn’t a clue what on earth was going on. There was such a mixed response in the beginning. Alongside a widespread feeling of fear and anxiety, there was also much jubilation as many people, my own grandfather included, celebrated the attack and praised Osama Bin Laden as a hero.
You might find this shocking and hard to take, but yes this was the initial reaction of most of the people around me who actually believed this was some sort of victory of Muslims over the infidels! It was only later that we came to realize that this was a terror attack targeting the lives of thousands of innocent people. This perception changed our views, and ever since then we’ve condemned the incident.
As I say, the initial spontaneous response was a kind of jubilant celebration, but once the dust started to settle we got a clearer view. You have to remember that we didn’t have many private TV channels back then, just a couple of state-owned stations. The media response, however, was broadly similar to what we had been feeling on the ground. While many condemned and raged against the terror attacks and vowed to reclaim the religion in whose name the attacks had been committed, others persisted in maintaining that this was not our war but rather part of some bigger picture. Yet thus far nothing has emerged from this “bigger picture” than a load of conspiracy theories.
Just condemning the attacks was not enough. There then began the global war against terror initiated by the USA along with several of its allies. Pakistan is also an American ally, a fact which many people In Pakistan find deeply offensive to this very day.
Thus began the war in Afghanistan on the terror training networks. As the missiles rained down, a potent and poisonous brew was concocted out of threatening words like Taliban, extremists, Jihad, Muslims, sharia, hijab, burqa, and many others. The initial misconception of the events of 9/11 in this part of the world was exactly mirrored in the USA and developed countries as many people started blaming Muslims for what they believed was an attack on freedom and liberty and saw Islam as directly responsible for promoting violence, terrorism and extremism. Unsurprisingly, this onslaught outraged Muslims across the world because Muslims have been around for centuries and the vast majority of them are peace-loving people. A recent study that shows Muslims to be among the most patriotic people in America is only one piece of a large body of evidence in support of this claim.
Put bluntly, if Islam really did preach terrorism, the more than 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world would have created a hell of a lot more trouble!
Ever since there has been an on-going struggle to propagate the real teachings of Islam and refute the fake interpretations of those who attempt to hijack the religion for their own purposes. It has met with a reasonable degree of success, but challenges still remain, and Muslim communities in the West are still the frequent victims of discrimination and racism.
As I say, the war on terror has practically reshaped the world and the Middle East in particular. Ten years on, we commemorate the innocent lives lost in those tragic incidents. And we are right to do so. But we often forget the unsung victims of 9/11 and the war on terror. We forget the countless thousands of innocent lives lost in the war in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the killing fields of Iraq. Alone the death toll in the Pakistan army fighting this war is over 2000. On this day, we should remember and honor the lives of all the victims who lost their lives in this war.
Ten years on, the situation is quite different. I’d say it has changed the lives of many people. Changed their perceptions, and much more. After 10 years, many Americans seem to have shed as many misconceptions of Muslim communities as they have adopted. Many, however, still remember and can hardly forget what happened a decade ago. Meanwhile, the current trend among Muslim communities shows that they have become much more active in denouncing acts of terrorism and violence.
I don’t have any personal story about 9/11 to share, but I would like to say one important thing and that is that we Muslims should apologize for 9/11. Not because we’re guilty of the twin tower bombings, but because we never put enough effort into spreading the true and peaceful message of Islam. If we had, this could have gone quite some way to preempting the initial outrage directed at Muslims.