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One year after: Reflections on September 11

By JONATHAN ELENDU

Exclusive commentary for USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston
USAfricaonline.comand NigeriaCentral.com

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at my desk doing myjob. My job, as a newspaper columnist and magazine contributingeditor, included monitoring news from around the globe that affectsAfrica and America. My other job was taking care of my twomonthold daughter. I was reading an international newspaper on the webwhen I glanced at the television set and saw the breaking news banneron CNN. As usual that got my attention and I stopped reading.

I heard the CNN anchor say that the World Trade Center had beenhit by what looked like a commercial jetliner. My heart pounding, Istayed glued to the television set. Shortly thereafter, a secondplane hit the World Trade Center on live television. It was clear tome then that this could not have been two accidents in a row. Thiswas, obviously, an act of war. I was angry and afraid. My anger wasdirected at the senseless acts of violence and destruction. It wasapparent that many innocent lives would be lost. I was afraid for mydaughter, whose young life had suddenly been endangered by whoeverwas attacking America.

I was about a year older than my daughter was on Sept. 11, whenthe violence which led to the Nigerian Civil War started in the1960's. While I have no memories of the war, I know that my aunts,uncles and many extended family members were lost in that war. I knowthat my father lost his business to the Nigerian Civil War. I knowthat our lives were disrupted and never the same thereafter. Sadly, Iknow that Nigeria is yet to recover from that war which endedthirty-two years ago.

Ilooked into my daughter's eyes and cried. Silently, I whispered toher, "I am sorry, honey. You didn't have to experience this. Youshould have stayed back in heaven!" I went back to the computer andstarted working on a story. I made calls to everybody I knew. I triedto get a hold of my publisher (Chido Nwangwu) in Houston. Most peopleI called did not know more than I did about what was going on. I wasvery concerned about friends and family members. The questioneverybody asked was, "Why?"

As I wrote my story that day, the feeling of loss overwhelmed me.I knew life would never be the same again. I knew that the cowardlyattack on America would lead to more violence. Later that day, or thenext, a friend from England called me to find out if I was safe andsound. After that he asked me if I knew Barbara Olsen was one ofthose killed in the plane that hit the Pentagon? I was devastated. Ifelt my heart ripping out of my chest. I did not know Ms. Olsen, butI had done articles that were very critical of her, including the onethat was published earlier that week.

When her picture was shown on CNN shortly after the call from myfriend, I silently said, "Barbara, I am sorry. I regret I did not saykind things about you." My first articles on the attacks reflected myconfusion, regrets and fears. The second article which followed a fewdays later revealed my anger; the words expressed were fightingwords. I wanted everybody and every nation involved in the dastardlyattacks to be taught an everlasting lesson. I called for their totalannihilation from the face of the earth. After the bombing ofAfghanistan had commenced, I wrote the third article on the attacks.Although I was still very angry, I reflected on a few things,including a conversation I had with one of the guys, with whom Iplayed volleyball. This conversation took place on September 12th,the day following the attacks.

On that day I went to play volleyball at the park by People'sChurch, on Grand River, in East Lansing. While parking my car Iobserved that the guys I played with were huddled in small groups. Nodoubt, they were discussing the events of the previous day.

As I approached the group, one of the guys detached from them andwalked towards me. He asked me if I was a Muslim. I was taken abackby that question and I asked him why my religion was of interest tohim. He said, " I just want to know." I told him I was neither aMuslim, nor a Christian. He was visibly relieved. "Thank God you arenot a Muslim!" he said. "Why is that?" I replied. "Now we are goingto kill a lot of those bastard Muslims," he responded with a grin. Ifelt a chill run down my spine.

A few weeks later, while I was working on my third article on theevents of Sept. 11, that conversation at the volleyball court flashedthrough my mind. I was horrified to realize that what my friend saidmirrored my own mind on Sept. 12th. I did not want Muslimsslaughtered, but I wanted all those involved, including othercountries, destroyed. I realized at the time I was writing the thirdarticle, that I had, in my mind, started questioning a few things.While I demanded retribution, I felt there was something unsettlingwith a scenario where the world's richest and greatest military mightwas bombing the world's poorest and most backward nation. A lot hashappened since Sept. 11, 2001, and many lives have changed.

At all nooks and crannies of America, it has not been businessas usual. I have become more involved with people and organizationsin the Greater Lansing area. There has been so much change, yetthings seem to remain the same. It is a baffling paradox. Sept. 11th,was about power and injustice. Some cowards in the caves ofAfghanistan thought they had power and decided to unleash their ownbrand of so-called justice. They killed and maimed innocent Americansand people from other countries. They destroyed families,livelihoods, and friendships.

In our own families and communities, we also see powerful peopleperpetrating injustice. Maybe we have simply learned to live withthis phenomena in our homes, offices and communities. We have come toaccept oppression and denial of justice as the way the world works.We oppress people and expect them to accept it with equanimity.

When injustice is meted out to us, we shrug our shoulders and moveon. We are afraid to speak out, lest people think of us as not beingteamplayers. We all want peace, therefore, we must not upset thecart.

What kind of peace do we really desire? The peace of the graveyard? September 11, 2001, should have been like any other summer day.Nothing can justify the cowardly attacks on America and her people byBin Laden and his bunch of hooligans. I am not a violent man, but Iam comfortable with the thought that the Taliban and Al Qaedadeserved what they got.

While we mourn the lives we lost and celebrate our freedom, let usdig deep into the quiet recesses of our hearts and ask: Are wekilling, all over again, the over the three thousand lives that werelost to the events of September 11th? That is what we do when weperpetuate the kind of thinking that resulted in Sept. 11th. When wedo to others what we would not want done to us, we are perpetuatinginjustice. September 11, 2001 was about injustice. Let us say: NeverAgain!
Elendu is acontributing editor of USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica TheNewspaper.


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