A piece of powerful narrative as told by Suheir Hammad, a Palestinian-American poet, author and political activist. It is entitled, First Writing Since, which describes her reaction to the September 11 attacks. It is powerful, raw and told from the perspective of a Muslim raised in New York whose brothers were fighting the war as Americans. She is a poet who writes of her experience as an immigrant (she was born in Amman, Jordan to Palestinian refugee parents who immigrated to Brooklyn, NY when Suheir was five years old); she writes of her experience as a Muslim living here with the heart divided as an American and Palestenian, and she writes of her experiences as a woman struggling against sexism. She is currently working on her third book of prose.
And here is the piece I wrote on September 17, 2001, six days after the towers fell, when my mind was still trying to absorb the tragedy of it all. The piece was birthed from seeing three words in the evening news: in the street, an ashen-covered car with the words "We Shall Overcome." It jolted my senses and wakened me from the shock I was still under and the feelings I had been experiencing, feelings that finally found their conduit through these words.
I Will Not Be Cowed By Fear Nor Paralyzed By Anger
I am no longer fearful.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, whatever internal fears I'd kept company with disintegrated in the dust of mortar that malevolently covered a people caught off guard. My being shattered into tiny pieces along with the destruction of thousands of lives slain and traumatized by another's ideology. The portals of Hell opened and victims whose screams and anguish we'll hear and remember in perpetuity, revealed to us that day that our lives, in a blink of an eye, could be so easily and unexpectedly extinguished.
Though we are all well aware that accidents and tragedies can and will happen, we nonetheless live in an illusory state where our minds require the need to believe we are in control: a deceptive self-preservation mechanism. On that fateful day, the message was loud and clear: we have no control over our lives - how foolish and egotistical of us to believe otherwise. We plan our days and futures with the belief that our stay here will be long and fruitful, because we hope and we dream and we believe that goodness in our lives will always prevail, yet never knowing whether we'll be granted another tomorrow. However, on September 11, thousands of innocent people lost those hopes and dreams - they never got to see another tomorrow.
The people in America right now are experiencing an overall sense of malaise. They have not yet begun to assimilate that which is incomprehensible. Anger and depression are holding center court. Some are angered by the secretive enchroachment of a group that assimilated themselves into our society feigning a false sense of love for our country while meticulously preparing for the day of our destruction. Others are blaming our naivete. But collectively we are all aware of the consequences to come. We are all different peoples, with different internal processes trying to digest the unpalatable.
And I am sad but I'm not angry. In times of crisis, I am hardly ever angry. In times of crisis I become quiet and introspective and begin to internally deconstruct and analyze a situation that has been forced upon me to find its solution. No, I am not angry because anger begets anger and that is not problem-solving. When angry, people make foolish decisions and make mistakes. This is a time for calm rationalization and critical thinking. This is a time to still our minds so that we may find the answer. In the stillness we will find the best way to honor those that perished; in the stillness we can send our prayers and support to all that are working feverishly day and night at Ground Zero dealing with a tragedy many of us have been spared.
And, I am saddened...
I am saddened that in this great country of ours that stands for Freedom, anger has alighted on our land and has deceptively introduced itself to our people...but I am confident that we shall overcome;
I am saddened that we will now see danger and mistrust lurking behind innocent middle-eastern faces who were never a part of our destruction...but I am secure in the fact that in time our eyes will be unveiled;
I am saddened of the retribution our government will implement in defense of this senseless act....but sadly realize that we are left no other choice;
I am saddened that our way of life and liberty has now taken on a new face....but realize that it is a necessity if we are to survive; and
I am saddened that living in the land of the free, I had taken for granted our blessings and freedom and forgotten that this is not the way for so many others....and ask God for his forgiveness for being righteous and blind.
No, I cannot feel anger. I will not allow the very emotion that gave birth to a monstrous act that espoused a distorted sense of belief consume me. My self will not express it. I watch the news and see countries applauding in the face of our ruin, I see children cheering the aftermath of the destruction. The amoral behaviour is what disturbs me, makes me uneasy, makes me feel threatened, but it does not anger me; it saddens me because I realize there are never any winners in a game of hate and retribution.
And, I am no longer fearful.
I am no longer fearful because whatever will happen will happen without my knowledge and contribution. I am no longer fearful because I cannot control what another country or this country will do. I cannot and will not fear the unknown. No. This act has given me the courage to refuse to be cowed by fear or be paralyzed by anger. Instead, I will continue to live my life with the optimism that has always been in my heart and I will continue to pray for peace, acceptance and understanding. Because war and hate are not the answers.