India / Southeast Asia

12 Years Ago Today: 9/11 Reflections from India

“We’ll be having a guest for dinner tomorrow night,” Baba told us last week. “He’s a very famous international consultant and will be staying with us because he has a speech in Pune tomorrow.”

Baba didn’t tell us too much beyond that, just that this consultant had met Barack Obama, he would be coming the following night and he would probably eat dinner with us.

Emelia and I wondered about this mysterious guest all week. Who was he? Who did he work for? Would we recognize him when he arrived?

On September 6th he pulled up in a large black car and Emelia and I tried to look discretely out of the front window on the second story to catch a glimpse of the mysterious consultant. We listened as the SUV turned off and the doors of the car and then the house slammed shut behind him.

We shifted from our position by the window to a new spot leaning against the door frame of my room where we could hear everyone shuffling around downstairs: exchanging greetings and getting to know each other.

As baba and aai talked to him in the living room, we tried to pick up some of the Maranthi they spoke. When I heard “gluten allergy” and “ACM,” I knew we had come up in conversation. And no sooner had I recognized those words than baba called us down to meet the consultant.

We introduced ourselves and explained a little about our study abroad program and then Mr. Sundeep Waslekar shared some stories with us.

He explained that he would be speaking about India’s global problems at the university the next day and told tales of his world travels and the experience of writing several books about his adventures and proposed solutions to massive global problems.

After a few minutes of conversation, Mr. Waslekar sat down for dinner with our host parents and we retreated to our rooms where I began to furiously google the mysterious Sundeep.

It turns out he is just about the coolest person I’ve ever met and I had no idea moments before when we were sitting only a few feet from him.

Mr. Waslekar is the president and founder of the Strategic Foresight Group and is one of the leading thinkers on Indian conflict resolution and solutions for global peace. He’s traveled the world advising international governments on solutions to global inequality and violence and he’s written countless articles and books documenting his vast knowledge.

I continued my internet search for his name reading some of the inspiring articles he has written about seeking peace in a tumultuous world when I came across this on Wikipedia: “Following the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the War on Terror, he facilitated dialogues between Western and Islamic leaders.”

September 11. I had nearly forgotten the anniversary was quickly approaching and suddenly my thoughts were with my Muslim friends in the US. 12 Years after the atrocities of 9/11, I find that one of the most lasting impacts of that day has been an American backlash against the Islamic religion.

A couple of weeks ago at the Interfaith Youth Core Conference in NYC, we discussed the massive impact September 11 had on Muslim youth in America who faced unprecedented prejudice after the attacks as many Americans began to lump all Muslims with the terrorists.

It’s been 12 years since then and I’d like to think those Americans have moved on from their initial anger and hatred and come to find, as I have that Islam is inherently incredibly peaceful.

That night on the internet, I found my views on Islam reaffirmed by Mr. Waslekar who discussed the unquestionably clear distinction between the religion of Islam and the actions of Al Queda. Because when you look at the statistics, it’s easy to see that the vast majority of Muslims in the world do not agree with the actions of Al Queda on any level. Terrorism goes against fundamentally peaceful Islamic principles.

And if you look to the statistics on terrorist groups as Mr. Waslekar did, you see that there are extremist groups in every religion and that does not make every participant in that religion bad. Many Christians would be infuriated to be placed in the same group as the Westboro Baptist Church. So how can we similarly put all Muslims in a group with Al Queda?

So the next logical question is: as we continue these global peace talks–many of them still bearing the scars of 9/11–how do we move together towards one unified world for peace when religion is so often a source of tension in our world?

I can’t say I have the perfect, foolproof answer to that. It’s a massive goal for us to take on, but I believe with all my heart it is worthwhile.

On my end, I believe that religion will end up proving to be a big proponent of peace. I believe that if we–as religious and non-religious people–can sit down and begin discussions with our common values we can find solutions to many of the world’s problems. We can be one of the first generations to show that religion doesn’t need to be a source of tension, a topic to be avoided at the dinner table with in-laws. If we are willing to listen to and learn from the ideas and beliefs of others, interfaith discussions are as good as planting a field of seeds for peace.

But that’s just me.

For today…I defer to Mr. Waslekar’s advice and give you a few excerpts from his piece in Forbes India. If he hadn’t have come over the other night for dinner, I doubt I would have ever stumbled across his inspiring words in my rampant google search. I’m so glad I did because I think it’s critical for us to look back at 9/11 in remembrance of those who passed away on that day, but also as a reminder of what we have left to accomplish. And hopefully as a motivation for us to escape “the world in despair” in favor of “the world of hope.”

 

The world in despair can encroach on the world of hope. When its level rises, the sea assaults the land and makes groundwater saline. When a black hole expands, it absorbs all stars nearby. Climate change, pandemics, crime and terrorism are varied expressions of the same malaise. They demonstrate the potential of the world in despair to aggrandize itself. Our barricades, walls and soldiers are of no use…

The 21st century is different from the past. We now live in an era where terror, technology and temperature have evolved to a level that does not recognize boundaries between nations. We live in an era where shrinking rivers and fleeing refugees do not read constitutions. We live in an era where pathogens do not recognize patriotism. We live an era where our world of hope is no longer secluded from the world in despair.

If we want the world in despair to retreat, we must ensure that the world of hope expands. It means we practice Bertrand Russell’s concept of power and trust Rousseau’s explanation of human nature. It means we allow compassion to replace competition, dialogue to replace discord, sharing to replace secrecy and generosity to replace greed. It means we all have one dream, a dream of one world where everyone lives in hope and none in despair.

The greatest idea of the 21st century would be for all of mankind to have one dream. We must remember that most impossible dreams are possible. Once upon a time, a frail old man dreamt of an independent nation and today India is liberated from foreign yoke. Once upon a time a preacher dreamt that the son of a black man and the son of a white man would sit at the same table.

And today, a son of a black man and a daughter of white parents shape the affairs of their world together.

 

“We need an inclusive world not merely because of the fear of our survival. We need it because hope is feasible. We need it because dreaming is good and aspirations are essential. We need it because every citizen of the earth can become a participant. We need it because the tomorrow is ours. We need it because the impossible is often possible.” (Sundeep Waslekar, Nelson Mandela Benefit Speech, Dubai, December 16, 2005)

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