Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Thursday, 15 September 2011

10 years on from 9/11

Originally published at Next Gen Journal, 12/9/2011.

A break from writing turned rather long, so please excuse the follies in this one. And the few after actually, but you get the idea.

I was out with my grandmother on the streets of Lahore 10 years ago. We walked through the lounge door, and the news was on, the dreadful image that haunts us all today repeating itself behind a numbing barrage of voices and confusion. I sat there writing invitation cards to my 11th birthday, not quite understanding what it meant or what to make of it all.

10 years, and I still don’t. Life has been thrown open by all of this, that awful image defining what we fight for, what we fight against, the battles that our minds stumble through every day, the struggle to find the truth, figure out our identities, understand our beliefs, test our beliefs,  defend our beliefs, then struggle again to figure out what they are.

People often ask me how things are in Pakistan. I’ve live abroad for over two years now, and I still haven’t figured out how to answer that question. On one hand, I’ve lived in Pakistan all my life.   I still live there when I’m not studying or working abroad, and life is good. We go see the new Kung Fu Panda in 3D, and I go visit my old school with nervous high school seniors talking about applying to college in the US. Things are the same. On the other hand, I now prove my identity at a few checkpoints, run through a bunch of body guards with machine guns and then get pat down to do it. And the news is true, factually at least, whatever goes with it is confusing to say the least.

Today, when I’m abroad, I want to not be Pakistani sometimes, just so that I can be who I am without being contained by my nationality, but it’s hard to do. I am very Pakistani. I don’t understand politics.  I’m a geek, and my accent with all its changes is still rather brown. There’s obviously more, but it’s all there. And when I’m abroad I inevitably find myself trying to be a Pakistani ambassador, getting viewpoints across, trying to defend things, accepting the wrongs, standing by the rights. And at home, I’m the American ambassador championing freedom, tolerance and life, but then at a loss at times to defend some foreign policy that scares all of us in Pakistan.

I can’t play blame games, for quite frankly who am I to play the blame game.  I am no policy expert. I like many others am confused about what I want to do, what I believe, who to believe and what I must to do for all of this. All I can tell people is about myself, my life that is Pakistani, now somewhat American and somewhat otherwise. After 9/11, me and my friends are forced to figure out our beliefs, things we perhaps should have done anyway. And while our nature tells us to tread back safely into our cultural and historical set of beliefs when we’re confused, everything around us tells us there’s something wrong.

Slowly some of us make our peace with parts of belief, and begin to stitch it all together. Except now our families are also under threat for wanting to prevent bloodshed, and you’d think wanting to not fight war would help.

Perhaps it does get awkward at times being Muslim on 9/11. Am I expected to be apologetic? It reminds me of the Park 51 scenario. I feel for the families of everyone that lost their lives on 9/11, and for everyone else whose world changed in even the slightest way. I didn’t lose someone close on 9/11 itself, but my world has changed since. I don’t know what to do to try and keep life safe, and I wish I had a remedy, but perhaps everyone is at a loss for one. We have our ways, but the killing continues and at times becoming numb to everything is what results, and one wonders what sort of people that makes us.

10 years on and we’re scared of Friday prayers, we’ve lost loved ones, we’ve lost our integrity and our dignity. And my American self wants to be more American, so I can help, and I wish there was more we could do to ease the pain. May all those we lost rest in peace, and may we all feel the hope for a more peaceful future.