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New York, the Untold Story

Aijaz Zaka Syed / 30 July 2009

We all remember where we were when the 9/11 happened. The surreal experience of watching the World Trade Centerís twin towers crumble and go down one after another on television in the ancient offices of my old newspaper in India has been etched on my memory forever.

Doubtless, it was an epic tragedy and an act of terror that deserves to be unequivocally condemned in strongest terms possible.  And it has been. 

More than three thousand innocent lives were snuffed out that September 2001 morning as the whole world watched in helpless horror, not to mention the thousands of families that were directly or indirectly affected.  It shook America, the mightiest power on the planet, to its core and changed it forever. I have never believed in all those outlandish conspiracy theories about the 9/11 and a rather absurd belief of some Arabs and Muslims that the September 11 attacks were planned and perpetrated by the Zionists to invite America’s wrath on the Muslim world. 

But conspiracy or no conspiracy, the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington did set the United States, and perhaps rest of the Western world, on a collision course with the Arabs and Muslims everywhere.  Whoever planned the 9/11, they succeeded spectacularly in their designs. 

The terror attacks on New York and Washington killed three thousand people.  But the with-us-or-against-us war that the then born-again commander-in-chief ordered in response to the attacks has left more than a million people dead in Afghanistan and Iraq; not to mention the thousands of faceless, nameless innocent civilians who are being killed like flies by US jets and drones in the wild West of Pakistan. 

Four thousand American soldiers have died in Iraq alone, little knowing what they fought for. And eight years on, the end of this absurd war with no defined goals is nowhere in sight, even though we have a new commander-in-chief in the White House who talks of “Change We Can.” 

And beyond this ubiquitous and all-consuming war that America has been fighting, from Iraq to Afghanistan, there’s a bigger battle that is being waged on human rights, rule of law and all that was once dear and sacred to the American people. 

Enough has been said and written about CIA’s special flights and extraordinary renditions and ‘special interrogation methods’ like water boarding – sanctioned and blessed by Dick Cheney, no less – and the Guantanamo Bay.  But we will never know how many innocent, faceless civilians have been swallowed up by the nameless, secret gulags around the world—perhaps forever. 

Watching New York, the latest Bollywood offering that everyone is talking about these days and not just in the subcontinent, has been a strange experience. While it has been a real treat watching Bollywood heartthrobs John Abraham and Neil Nitin Mukesh and gorgeous Katrina Kaif offer some of the finest performances — perhaps their career best – it is not an easy movie to watch.  And it is not possible to ignore the issues and questions that ‘New York’ raises.  They will haunt you for a long time to come, while you go about your day-to-day lives and the business of survival in the jungle out there. 

New York’ opens seven years after the September 11 attacks with three Indian friends, two of them Muslim and male, getting drawn into the vortex of the terror war in the Big Apple. The way Omar (Neil) is framed by the FBI and is persecuted and forced to spy on and turn in his childhood friend Sameer (John) is more like a classic Orwellian tale out of Stalin’s Soviet Union, rather than something from the land of the free. John Abraham, the handsome hunk who has never been known for his histrionic skills, is of course no Shahrukh Khan or Aamir Khan. But he puts in a very convincing, rather moving performance as the chief protagonist and the fall guy, Sameer, bringing to life the trauma and horror that Muslims – or at least some of them – had to go through in New York and elsewhere in America after the 9/11 strikes.

We have all heard of the most persuasive ways of CIA and FBI.  But ‘New York’ really lets you experience them. John goes through the hair-raising experience of ‘water boarding’ for real albeit just for a minute, (apparently it becomes unbearable after that).  And many of the usual suspects at the Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere have gone through this hell for hundreds of times, and continue to do so.    

Well, this is not supposed to be a movie review.  But, dear readers, I recommend an early visit to your nearest movie theatre to get an up close experience of what it was to be a Muslim in post 9/11 America (and it still is). 

And I wish the Americans themselves, especially their leaders present and past and their smug pundits in the safety of their ivory towers, could get to watch this eye-opening movie and learn from it.  I know America has moved on, and so have the Muslims, after the departure of Bush and company.  But the mind-boggling mess left behind by the gang is yet to be cleared. And most of those illegal and inhuman policies have survived to this day.    

The witch-hunt and victimisation of innocent Muslims as portrayed in the movie, New York, is not the figment of Bollywood’s imagination. It is a frightening reality that is not limited to some unfortunate individuals like Sameer, Omar and Maya who happened to be at the wrong place at a wrong time.  

The horrific ordeal of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a MIT-trained neuroscientist who disappeared with her three children five years ago from Islamabad to mysteriously resurface in US custody as a terror suspect and al-Qaeda mastermind, is a case in point. 

Who knows how many Aafia Siddiquis, Sameers and Omars are out there, waiting for justice and freedom? I can hear their helpless, terrifying cries all the time.  You can hear them too.  All you need is a conscience. I wonder if President Barack Obama, who has changed the way the world looked at America, can hear those helpless men and women.

Given his extraordinary background and the repeated promises he has made to rediscover America’s original ideals and values and its commitment to justice and the rule of law, I believe Obama can hear them too.  The question is, does he care enough for his beliefs and convictions to act to protect them? We’ll have to wait and watch.    

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and can be reached at aijaz@khaleejtimes.com. Views expressed here are his own     

 
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