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Twenty years on, an American Muslim reflects on the terror attacks that changed everything

Twenty years on, an American Muslim reflects on the terror attacks that changed everything

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As I reflect back on the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, I am reminded of the reason I chose to make America my home. And, I guess my reasons are similar to the millions who have preceded me: Escape from persecution, pursuit of educational and technological excellence, live under rule of law and, above all, enjoy the freedoms that are guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution – freedoms that one cannot even imagine if one lives under occupation.

I learned early on how we became E Pluribus Unum (out of many; One), as inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States. To American Muslims that seemed to change on that fateful day when 19 terrorists with hatred of America attacked our homeland, killing 2,977 innocent victims. The trajectory of Muslim discourse in country abruptly changed for the worse. Instead of being the educated and a successful group of citizens, Muslims suddenly became suspect in the eyes of fellow citizens.

The lives of all of us changed that fateful day. American Muslims were quick to condemn the attacks loudly and without any reservations. We held vigils and prayers for the innocent victims and stood in solidarity with the rest of the nation. American Muslims prayed for the families of the victims and the heroic firefighters, paramedics and police. We volunteered as first responders and helpers and raised funds and donated blood alongside our neighbors. We opened doors to mosques across the region and across the country to show our fellow citizens who we really are and how the dastardly acts have affected us as much as anyone else. It was a challenging time for all Americans, especially Muslims.

None of us, least of all Muslims, was prepared for those dastardly attacks and we all were stunned. But, our commitment and dedication to the security of our nation was unquestionable. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), that had written about terrorism even before 9/11, was not a player at the national scene to any significant degree at the time. That would all change in the decade following that fateful day.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York was inaugurated in Buffalo as the flagship of MPAC on the East Coast in May 2004. MPAC-WNY has been working diligently for the security of our homeland from its inception. Apart from community service, interfaith dialogue and educational activities, MPAC-WNY specifically developed joint programs with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice with widespread support from Muslims of all shades and opinions. Some of these programs:

• Enhance America’s security by conducting dozens of training sessions for government officials and law enforcement personnel, introducing them to Islamic principles and teachings, the diversity within the Muslim community, offering interviewing tips and techniques and methods for effectively engaging the community.

• Provide training sessions, symposia and seminars for businesses and academic, civic, cultural and religious institutions of all persuasions regarding Islam and Muslims and issues of local, national and international significance that has an impact on U.S. security and/or domestic policy.

• Act as an effective interface between the Muslim community and a number of government agencies, especially those of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice. MPAC-WNY has held numerous forums to promote mutually beneficial understanding and cooperation. Such initiatives have led to programs that were adopted nationally.

• Contribute further to this goal as a founding member of Building Respect In Diversity Groups to Enhance Security (BRIDGES) with the Department of Justice. The program institutionalized dialogue with key federal and local government agencies, to enhance the security of our country. MPAC-WNY has been recognized for its efforts by the federal government.

• Initiated and founded with the FBI Community Relations Executive Seminar Training (CREST), which strengthened the relationship and improved understanding between the FBI and the community members. MPAC-WNY was recognized for its contributions in this area by the Director of FBI.

Our commitment to homeland security, while preserving the civil rights and civil rights of all Americans, is unshaken. In that effort we look forward to and welcome any assistance and partnership of our fellow citizens with pride and enthusiasm.

Through generations, America has been enriched by its diversity. Today, Muslims are making positive contributions in every sphere of American life, be it armed forces, first responders, civil services, medicine, engineering and law, education, labor, business or public service. Let’s use this anniversary to realize the full potential of American Muslims to strengthen the leadership role of this great nation in the world and keep the dream of E Pluribus Unum alive.

Khalid J. Qazi is inaugural president and senior adviser of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of WNY.

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