By Kani Xulam
September 11, 2001
It was a cool morning in Washington, DC. Two park police officers approached me in a hurried manner. One noted that my sign was too far from the cell, the site of our protest at Sheridan Circle. I said, “no problem”, and brought it closer. The other officer was more to the point. He asked if anybody had approached me this morning. I said, “no”. I then asked, if I should have expected somebody. He did not respond. He wore a sorry face. It was odd.
Then came a phone call from a friend in New York about the news. I asked him if they had identified the suspects. I remember mumbling a word or two about the suicide bombers. The true believers who walk to their deaths and expect to be rewarded with an immortal life and 70 virgins were probably the ones who would do this. For the losers of this world in many of the failed states, such a prospect would be alluring in more than a few countries in the world. I turned on the radio.
It may be appropriate to note here that I am a Kurdish activist from Turkey. I have been keeping a vigil in front of Turkish Ambassador’s home in Washington, DC, to highlight and effect the freedom of four Kurdish parliamentarians who were imprisoned on March 5, 1994. Seven years later, on March 5, 2001, a group of us, mostly Kurds and some Americans, camped in front of Ambassador Ilkin’s house for the release of these Kurdish representatives. 191 days later, we are still there.
The news on the radio was bad. The word bad is not really what took place in New York or at Pentagon. Like many in the nation and around the world, I am in a state of numbness. Who could it be? A spectacular triumph for evil has taken place for all to see. I knew from the study of history that there would also be occasions for the human spirit to soar in this darkest hour for America.
I was proven right in less than an hour or so. An American fellow — unknown to me till then — dropped by and wanted to give me a hug. I felt the need to respond in kind and did comply with his request. He then wanted to give me an address. He added, “use it in case of an emergency.” He asked, “Do you understand what I am saying”. I did not say a word. But we both knew what had just taken place in the middle of Washington, DC.
I had first felt the enmity of Americans towards the people of Middle East ancestry in the immediate aftermath of the hostage crisis in Tehran, Iran, back in 1980. Then, it was a prolonged crisis that would manifest itself in terms of racial slurs that I would receive from people who knew nothing about me. Not knowing English, I had simply kept my distance from these people but felt the sting of their hatred more with their mimics than with their words.
The American fellow was offering me a place of refuge in case the mob took to the streets and attacked people of my hue from the Middle East. I felt emptiness in my stomach. America was going to change and this time in front of my eyes. This time, I was ready to understand it. This time, I might get hurt for being from a place that might have sent some wrongdoers to hurt it.
At the site of our ongoing vigil, we have a sign that reads, “Americans worship freedom at home, money abroad.” In this awful hour in this nation’s history, I did not want to be critical of America that remains despite its flawed foreign policy priorities, a model of emulation, in terms of what it affords, the highest level of freedom, to its citizens. I brought the sign down. I wanted to contribute, in my own ways, to the healing process, if one could speak of such a thing, at this time.
Not an hour passed and another pedestrian approached me and told me that it would be in my best interest to end my protest. He added, people are furious and will not make a distinction between an Arab and a Kurd. It was obvious that this fellow knew the difference. It was also obvious that he wanted us not be harmed. I was more alarmed about what would become of America than what would happen to me.
As these lines are written, no one knows of this sophisticated but callous and cowardly attack on the United States. As Kurds who know the pain and sorrow of political violence from countries that range from dictatorships, Iraq and Syria, theocracy, Iran and so called democracy, such as Turkey, our hearts go out to the loved ones of all those who perished in this dastardly attack. May their souls rest in peace. And may peace come to America again.