A sister's lament: the call that never came
Washington, Sep 14, 2011: He loved living in the clouds, gazing down at the panoramic view of New York down there from his office on the 97th floor of the World Trade Centre. Little did he know that the view from his window that fateful day of Sep 11, 2001 would be his last glance at the city he had come to love.
"He always had a wish to work in World Trade Centre, and when he got this job at Marsh & McLennan he was on cloud
nine," recalled Rekha Kanoongo speaking about her cousin brother, Nagpur born Rajesh Khandelwal, who trained as an aeronautical engineer, but switched to computers when he came to the US.
"He loved working on the 97th floor. He would call me and say don't take this bridge, too much traffic," Kanoongo told IANS
a day after the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
"I can see the clouds today. I love to be in between the clouds...he loved the whole scenic view from there as he was an artist himself."
A day before 9/11, Rajesh had come to their house after work "to spend some time with me talking over tea," recalled Kanoongo, who runs a restaurant and a video store in New Jersey.
But "when he came I was busy talking to my friend. Rajesh bhaiya waited for me and than he left very disappointed that I did not have time for him."
So she left a message for him on Yahoo Messenger asking him to call her next morning. "But that call never came," said Kanoongo and to her eternal regret she realised that "we shouldn't wait to do or say anything to anyone, because we don't know if there is a tomorrow for us."
Khandelwal was just 33 when death snatched him from his perch in the clouds with a child who doesn't know who his father was. His spouse has married again and moved on and would not talk about those days.
But Kanoongo cannot forget and like every year this year too she went to the World Trade Centre despite pleas from everyone at home and friends and family in India as "terrorism was in the air and I shouldn't, but I wanted to go so I did."
While returning she asked a New York policeman about directions. He in turn asked from where she was and what she was doing at WTC. When she told him she was from India and "mentioned about losing bhaiya," he took out a small badge with WTC written on it and gave it to her.
"I cannot tell you how it felt at that moment; it was like a blessing sent to me from up there."
Like Kanoongo, Dimpal Patel, who also used to work at Marsh & McLennan, too can't forget. For it was he who had told his friend Khandelwal about the job opening at the WTC.
Patel who was working as a consultant there left on completion of his project a few months before 9/11. But they still travelled together from Edison where they lived and often went to the cafeteria in WTC for breakfast. But that fateful day he left alone.
"I was working for Deutsche Bank on 7th floor at a nearby building. When the first plane hit the WTC, our building was shaken and the power went off so we all ran out to see what had happened and were immediately told by our supervisor to leave the building by stairs."
"We all went down and when we came out of building we saw fire on around 80th floor of WTC where my friend Rajesh Khandelwal used to work.
As he was calling his wife from a telephone booth near the corner of WTC, "I saw the other plane above my head and then a split second later hitting the second tower of WTC," Patel said.
"I was standing away from the building and saw people jumping from the tallest building to certain death. It was like a paper flying from top of the building. It was a painful moment to see people dying and no one could come to their help."
"When the second tower collapsed we all just ran from there to the ferry with a big blast of black dust following us. The ferry took us to the other side of the river" and somehow made it home in ten hours and "rushed to Rajesh's uncle's house where everyone was waiting for both of us."
"I was worried about my friend Rajesh, hoping against hope that he would have somehow cheated death. But that was not to be."
9/11 and Intercultural Harmony
The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. has again brought the issue of terrorism to the forefront. So far Canada has been very fortunate to have been spared from such an ordeal. However, this doesn’t mean that we should become complacent. People who choose to engage in the despicable acts of terrorism are the fanatics with twisted minds who have no regard for human life or property. They live in their own fantasyland and are likely to use/misuse religion in order to justify their insane actions. Their actions can be attributed mainly to fanaticism and intolerance.
Every community, religion and culture has a vast majority of its adherents who are peaceloving, law abiding citizens and great role models for others. At the same time, there are fanatics and fringe elements in every community who will go to any length to impose their own misguided and extremist ideology on others. In this context, blaming the entire community, religion or race for the actions of a few is not only inappropriate but also unproductive.
In order to counter any kind of fanaticism/extremism/terrorism, all of us, individually and collectively, need to be more proactive in creating mutual respect, understanding and awareness. Certainly, our different levels of government are doing everything within their means to keep their citizens safe. However, it is also incumbent upon each one of us to do our part in this regard. . Richmond is a great example of this.
This Child of the Fraser can take great pride for its multiple initiatives in doing just that. Over the years, our City Council, staff as well as numerous agencies and individuals have been working tirelessly in promoting intercultural harmony in the community. Citizens of Richmond can be rightly proud of the harmonious relationship between people of diverse faiths, cultures and beliefs. The latest example of this was evident on Sunday, September 11 when a local church undertook a commendable initiative with respect to the 9/11 tragedy.
In order to remember and pay tribute to the victims of 9/11,St.Alban Anglican Church, under the leadership of its Rector Margaret Cornish, organized an inter-faith service. Participants included representatives of different faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. It was a wonderful experience to see people of different faiths under the same roof share their perspective of the 9/11 tragedy and its aftermath.
In addition to praying for the departed souls, the service was also an excellent way to promote inter cultural/faith harmony. All of the resource people on this somber occasion emphasized the importance of learning from and about each other. This is the best way to build bridges between people of different faiths and cultures. Initiatives like this go a long way in bringing people of diverse backgrounds together.
Honoring the Victims of September 11
By Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Tomorrow, the Sikh American community will join the country to reflect on the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and honor the memory of all the victims who passed away on that day, the first responders who sacrificed themselves to save others, and the families that suffered incredible loss.
SALDEF encourages all Sikh Americans to honor the memory of all 9/11 victims in your ardas and seva throughout the day. Please continue to honor their memory by standing up for the Sikh and American values of equality, freedom, and respect for diversity
We will also honor all those impacted by the events following September 11th. Like Americans of all faiths and backgrounds, the Sikh American community was attacked twice, first as Americans and again by those who wished to divide our country based on religion and ethnicity. We honor all victims of post-9/11 backlash, from those who have been victims of hate, like Balbir Singh Sodhi, to those who suffered and continue to suffer from discrimination and bullying.
Ten years after 9/11, Indian Americans have come a long way
Washington, Sep 10, 2011: Ten years after terrorists struck US unleashing a backlash against the South Asians given their close resemblance to the hijackers from the Middle East, the community has come a long way.
"Looking back, the country has changed substantially. Just after 9/11, people at large looked at South Asians with some suspicion. Things have completely changed now," Thomas Abraham, founder president and chairman emeritus of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) told IANS.
"Indian American community has become very active politically," he noted. "We have two governors and over a dozen legislatives in the state, county and city levels. We have several people in the administration. That is a lot of accomplishments for the Indian American community."
Abraham recalled that after 9/11 GOPIO had asked "our community members to be alert and cautious since the terrorists were from the Middle East and close resemblance to South Asians."
Deepa Iyer, executive director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) also recalled how the organisation transformed and expanded its mission after 9/11.
"When we saw the impact of backlash and discrimination on our community, we realised that there was a void, especially at the national level, of a voice dedicated to raising the perspective of South Asians in the US," she told IANS.
"SAALT aimed to fill that void, and to bring the issues faced by our communities 'at the table,' so to speak, especially with government agencies and elected officials," Iyer said.
In 2007, SAALT helped create the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of 42 organizations that serve, organise, and advocate on behalf of the South Asian community across the US.
Another community organisation, the Sikh Coalition has organised hearings on post-9/11 backlash and discrimination attended by over 200 members of Sikh, Arab, Muslim, and South Asian American communities as well as government officials, advocates, and scholars.
Billed as the Unheard Voices of 9/11, the hearings in New York City and Mountain View, California, featured testimony from individuals impacted by backlash discrimination, including targets of school bullying, job discrimination, and profiling.....IANS/NRIpress.com
No 9/11 accused has gone to the gallows
Washington, Sep 10, 2011: In the 10 years since the traumatic 9/11 terror attacks, the United States has arrested nearly 3,000 on terrorism charges and convicted over 2,500, but not one accused has gone to the gallows.
It's not due to any great aversion to the death penalty among the Americans that terror suspects have escaped the death penalty as there is still support for capital punishment in the US and there are as many as 3,251 prisoners in 34 of America's 50 states on the death row, according to Death Penalty Information Centre.
As of now, only 16 states do not have the death penalty. Since 1853, 10 states have abolished it, starting with Wisconsin. Wyoming followed in 1911, the capital city of Washington DC in 1981 and New York in 2007. Ten more are planning to do so.
Even so, since 1976, as many as 1,266 convicts have been executed, including 32 this year. But all the executions have been for murders and not terrorism related crimes.
Given the uncertainties of the US justice system, President Barack Obama has largely focused on eliminating the leadership of the terror group held responsible for the 9/11 attack as part of his strategy to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda."
"The perpetrators of those attacks wanted to terrorise us, but they are no match for our resilience. Today, our country is more secure and our enemies are weaker," Obama wrote in an op-ed published in the USA Today ahead of tenth anniversary of the attacks.
"Yet while we have delivered justice to Osama bin Laden and put Al Qaeda on the path to defeat, we must never waver in the task of protecting our nation," he wrote without mentioning the May raid to kill the 9/11 mastermind in his hideout in Pakistan or a flurry of drone strikes to kill several others.
Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes was more explicit in telling the foreign media that bin Laden's elimination was "a gigantic and both symbolic and operational victory" that "cemented a trend of leadership degradation" that continues.
Rhodes cited in particular the killing of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir born Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the top masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai attack in June and Al Qaeda's new deputy leader, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, in August in CIA drone strikes.
In all eight people charged with major terrorism crimes have been reported killed overseas. But in the courts, the US record has been somewhat mixed though the conviction rate has gone up tremendously.
Of the 196 among 345 terrorism cases brought to court since the Sep 11 attacks, 178 have ended in convictions, either through a guilty plea or a jury's decision, according to a media report citing government documents.
About eight dozen defendants are still awaiting trial and more than 50 defendants are fugitives overseas or being held by other countries awaiting extradition.
Apart from these, 775 detainees have been brought to Guantanamo detention camp established in 2002 by the Bush Administration within the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the Cuba island to hold and interrogate detainees from the war in Afghanistan and later Iraq.
Of these, most have been released without charge or transferred to facilities in their home countries and only three have been convicted by military court of various charges.
David Hicks was found guilty under retrospective legislation introduced in 2006 of providing material support for terrorism in 2001. Salim Hamdan accepted a position on Osama bin Laden's personal staff as a chauffeur. Ali al-Bahlul made a video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole.
In March 2007, Pakistan born 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed during a secret hearing at Guantanamo: "I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z."
A year later, the US Department of Defence charged Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali and Walid Bin Attash for the Sep 11 attacks under the military commission system.
But on Feb 5, 2009, charges against another person, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were dropped without prejudice following an order signed by Obama to suspend trials for 120 days as he announced plans to close the military detention facilities.
But with Congress posing "a chief obstacle to our efforts to close Guantanamo" as Rhodes said, and lawmakers opposing trials on the US mainland, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 15 other high-value detainees are still cooling their heels at the Cuba facility.......IANS/NRIpress.com