Smoke is still billowing from the charred remains of what once were two mighty workplaces for ordinary and innocent people. The daily life of Lower Manhattan bore testimony to the best of our civilization, a result of thousands of years of evolution. This dream of peaceful progress lies shattered - thanks to the diabolical designs of some mad fanatics.
The men and women searching rubbles for their loved ones, alive or dead, clinging to hope amidst despair, ask every one of us to introspect, to ponder where our world is heading.
While it is logical to hunt out and eliminate the fanatic perpetrators of this ghastly and barbaric act, this at best remains a short-term remedy. The society must address the larger question. Why did this tragedy happen? Why were such accomplished men, piloting those ill-fated airplanes, so deeply motivated as to offer the supreme sacrifice of their own lives?
The US is undoubtedly a great democracy. It is a society that has evolved and that sustains some of the finest laws and institutions of governance ever made by man. Sadly, though, it made the fatal mistake of being too self-centric. An average American has been much less concerned with poverty, persecution and pestilence outside the US. The American foreign policy systematically and consistently ignored the genuine democratic aspirations and freedom struggles of a multitude of people.
Isn't it ironical that the best friends of this champion of democracy are monarchs, kings and emirs - rather than genuinely elected representatives of people. Rafsanjani, Gadaffi, Arafat, Saddam and even Mahathir Mohammed, the Muslim rulers bearing a semblance of popular representation are its foes. Sadly the US policy makers did not learn a lesson from the Iranian revolution.
For decades the US chose to befriend the military dictated Pakistan at the expense of a democratic India. Have we forgotten the American armada anchored in the Arabian Sea in support of Pakistan?
The forcible occupation of their homeland and the blatant oppression of Palestinian people by Israel are perpetrated with active US collusion. People who witness a mini-Manhattan everyday cannot be expected to share the suffering of the Americans today. The humiliating subjugation of an entire Iraqi nation for a decade could not but breed deep resentment against the American people amongst the world Muslims.
All this - and much, much more - must now change. The rubbles of the WTC will profoundly alter life on earth. American defense and security apparatus will shift its focus from space to land. Its foreign policy should become more sensitized to people's democratic aspirations worldwide, rather than sustaining puppet regimes for narrow American ends. The Multinationals and corporates worldwide must decentralize their decision-making and information storage. American citizens, who grew up on notions of invincibility, will become less materialistic and will hopefully begin to think globally. Large townships, skyscrapers and airways may become less favoured modes of living and moving about.
For us in India, too, this tragedy has profound lessons to learn from. Like the Muslim world, the leadership of the Hindu community has been unmistakably taken over by fanatics. From Mahatma Gandhi to Thackerays and Togadias, much has changed for worse. The great Catholicism and universalism of Hinduism have been replaced with parochialism and bigotry.
For too long in India the minorities have been persecuted. The Muslims, the Sikhs and even the Christians, have been subjected to discrimination and humiliation, often threatening their property and life.
The Indian Muslims in particular have for long bore the brunt of the partition. Even today the unfortunate happenings in Kashmir evoke strong backlash against ordinary Indian Muslims. In states like Gujarat, entire townships, institutions, trade and even the government have been purged of Muslim identities, confining even nationalist, secular and law-abiding Muslims to ghetto existence. Muslims are denied their fair share in the fruits of the nations' growing prosperity systematically.
History bears that when injustice prevails for too long, when large masses of ordinary people, moderates and liberals are discriminated against and humiliated, the fanatics, the militants - and even the goondas - gain legitimacy and take over. Sadly their leadership is recognized de facto by the rest of the community.
Sri Lankan govt. ignored genuine Tamil aspirations. How many Indian Hindus today truly condemn the LTTE's barbarism? The Shiv Sena systematically and for long murdered and plundered Muslims of Mumbai. How many Indian Muslims truly condemn the heinous Bombay blasts? Right now, we see this happening in Kashmir. We ignored and side-tracked the moderate APHC, and the Al-Jabbar took over.
Indian Muslims have been dismayed by the recent speech of an otherwise much-loved Prime Minister. Even amidst its tragedy the US rulers and the Christian clergy underlined the importance of respecting the average Muslims. The entire developed world, even while lending unanimous support to the US, loudly and vocally cautioned against the mistake of blaming the entire Muslim community. Tony Blair's speech in the UK parliament is particularly noteworthy. In this background, Mr Vajpayee completely ignored the interests of 15% of Indian population. Worse, there was a subtle message linking all our economic woes to the American terrorism, regardless of its possible implications for Indian Muslims. For a lasting peace and uninterrupted progress the Indian society and government must enforce the rule of law and fair play. They must become more sensitized to the sensitivities of their minorities.
But the foremost lesson from this great tragedy must be learnt by the Muslims. If the moderate and the liberal Muslims continue to remain silent there is no hope for them and their generations. For a community that produced some of the best mathematicians, astronomers, chemists and philosophers today science and technology have taken a back seat. Ataturks, Moulana Azads and Mahathir Mohammeds have been replaced by Osama Ladens and Mullah Bukharis on the one hand or by Dawoods and Latifs on the other.
There are some hopes left though. Several countries like Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt match up to the modern world. Malaysia boasts of the world's tallest structure, Indonesia has replaced a Muslim cleric with Suharnoputri, Pakistan elected a woman PM, Bangladesh continues to be ruled by women leaders, India's first woman judge was a Muslim woman as is its Rajya Sabha Deputy Chief.
But time is running out for liberal Muslims. If they do not assert even now they will become completely neutralized. Indian Muslims disregarded the popular Hindu sentiment for Ram Janmbhoomi. They chose to ignore Taliban's heinous acts - from the desecration of Budha to the scarfing of Hindus. They remained silent on the barbarism of Coimbatore and Anantnag. They are paying a heavy price for this indifference. Continued silence will spell doom for Muslims and death for all that is fine in Islam.