This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

9/11: Love your neighbour as yourself

SUNDAY is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. I'm certain that you will have caught at least one mention of this anniversary from the news, TV, radio or online. For many this will be an occasion of great sadness, and to them I offer my condolences. I was too young to really appreciate what happened that day, and certainly too young to understand how the world changed, and how it reacted, as a result. The images were shown so much that, in addition to my lack of understanding of the situation, they almost became normal. But they truly are horrific - in searching for a suitable image for this post I found a photo set I really rather wish I hadn't. The images weren't graphic or gratuitous, just frank and disturbing in their honest representation of events unfolding.

Understandably the anniversary has prompted a mix of responses, from honour and praise to the emergency services and survivors to anger at the perpetrators from some, anger at the US government from others; references to the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad taking sides one way or another as to whether it was right; conspiracy theories; and, crucially, important and difficult questions about justice, humanity and prejudice. To this final debate I offer the stories of two people. I simply feel that the challenges these two stories present ought to be shared.

Rais Bhuyian

First, two pieces of audio from BBC Radio 4's PM programme that tell the story, as it happened, of the execution of Mark Stroman in Texas. Following 9/11, Stroman went on a rampage in Dallas, seeking revenge for the terrorist attacks, killing two people and shooting one other. He targeted people whom he believed to be 'Arabs', though none of them was Arabic. His third target, a Bangladeshi Muslim shopkeeper called Rais Bhuyian, was shot through the eye. The physical and personal consequences of that day still plague Bhuyian, yet despite this, it was Bhuyian himself who led a campaign to save Stroman's life, to commute his sentence to life without parole. The twists in the tale kept coming until the very end.

Pm 1 by srbishop

Pm2 by srbishop

If you were in Bhuyian's position, could you do the same?

Greg Mortenson

Second, I urge you to read Three Cups of Tea by David Oliver Relin and Greg Mortenson.

The book is a biography of Mortenson who, hungry, cold and dehydrated after becoming lost and isolated when descending K2, drifted into a remote village in the Karakorum mountains. Indebted to the kindness of the relatively impoverished villagers who nursed him back to health, he promised one day to return and repay them - by building a school. This he did - and a further fifty-four more throughout the region. The book charts how this happened, how a desire to educate and provide - even (especially) to girls - led to the foundation of the Central Asia Institute, whose humanitarian projects throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan transcend religious disputes and seek to improve the lives of the poorest in a region that the rest of the world would not dare to work in. Mortenson was an infidel, but what he was doing was recognised as right, even by the highest Mullahs. CAI's work continues today but pre-dates 9/11, and it is the effect of the attacks that really puts the work in context. The book does an excellent job of explaining why this work is so crucial, especially in the wake of the attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, when much of the West distrusted the entire Muslim world. I learnt a great deal about justice, injustice and about Islam itself. It is truly inspirational. This book needs to be read.

As we remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001, may these two examples, and countless others you may read elsewhere, provide inspiration for us to learn from the mistakes of the past - not to retaliate, but to help; not to assume that we are the oppressed or always in the right.

One of the ten commandments comes to mind, but it is so much easier said than lived out.

Love your neighbour, as it is written, as yourself.


  1. Lovely thoughtful piece Simon. I remember very clearly on 10th Septemeber hearing Bush utter the word "war" and saying that I was very scared that we would be launching an unwinnable war. My mother reassured me that he was not that stupid.

    I remember too that Israel used the war on terror as a reason to step up attacks on the Gaza strip.

    I still condemn the attacks on 9/11 and the massive loss of life and stability and all that went with it. I also condemn a lot of the reaction.

    However I was lucky enough to see a documentary about the firemen who went into the twin towers and though the documentary does eventually, in the last moments, descend into slight jingoism, it is incredible how so many people just went out and risked thier lives, and gave thier lives for other people. That is still one of the most humbling things about the whole thing.

    I will see if I can look out the book you recommended.

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you Siobhan

    I had never appreciated that 9/11 spurred on Israel to attack Gaza further - how awful. Israel's behaviour continues to trouble me.

    You are right about the firefighters - incredible bravery and humanity for those they were trying to save. I hope to one day see that documentary.