Middle East

Arab Reflections on the Anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001

Our Lost Innocence

Palestinian boy amidst worshippers in Manger Square
A Palestinian boy stands amid Muslim worshippers during the Friday prayers in Bethlehem's Manger Square, Sept. 27, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

The events of Sept. 11 have been scrutinized from every angle; what emerges is a gloomy and repugnant picture that has afflicted us all, our culture and our affairs, with a grievous wound, our distorted picture in the world. The damage is nothing to shrug off.

Every new detail emerging after Sept. 11 seems to be worse than the previous. Among the worst, however, is the image of our Arab Muslim youth, who, having left the warmth of their homes, wandered aimlessly by themselves from the caves of Tora Bora to the killing of innocents in New York, to the slaughtering of women and children in Algeria, to the kidnapping of innocents in Yemen, and the killing of tourists in Egypt. These acts—all of them—were done insidiously and slanderously in the name of Islam; [but] Islam itself is innocent of these acts of murder or homicidal rampages destroying people’s lives, honor, and property.

Even though a year has passed, we haven’t yet witnessed a serious dialogue that deals with and explains head-on the phenomenon of our teen-agers, who, in the flower of their youth, could embrace such extremist thoughts and murderous and destructive mentalities in the name of martyrdom and ideology. We haven’t questioned in a serious manner the underlying causes of the spread of extremism among the ranks of our teen-agers and young adults.

We haven’t asked ourselves: Why is it that the youth of the world use their time in their studies and in universities, or at the very least adopt innocent pastimes and approach the world with tolerance and affection, whereas our sons are disfigured by extremist, murderous, and dissident ideals?

What is the responsibility of religious sermons? How have we presented our religion to our young? Who are the ones that prevail upon us in this supposed continual war against the other remaining heavenly religions [Christianity and Judaism]? What is the source of this culture of extremism?

Did it spread to us by chance or is it deeply embedded in the methods of religious sermons, schools, and other cultural sources? What is the relationship between this extremism with the frustrated conditions, absence of feelings of hope, the spread of unemployment, and monetary corruption? Do the government and civil and social institutions bear any responsibility? What about the literati, religious authorities, and educators? Who among us has no relation to this situation and who among us does? Are these young people—especially those who are so young yet so fanatical—victims, or simply offenders?

Are they just the tip of the iceberg? Haven’t we seen the whole lot of them yet?

My heart goes out to the mothers and fathers who lost their sons to this assembly of the greatest kind of extremism. My heart goes out to the youth who are being goaded into following extremist ideals into the dark reaches of the caves in Afghanistan and the cells of Guantánamo.

My heart goes out to our culture and our civilization, as well as our reputation and our role in the world. My heart goes out to the youth and unborn children who are our future.