We share your grief. You must share our concerns
By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent UK, 14 September 2001
'So may we not even say thoughtful things about the US without being branded in this way'

I'm not writing this because I feel guilty about all the things some incandescent e-mailers have accused me of, mainly of being "anti-American" and cruelly indifferent to those who died in the US and those who will have to survive after them. They chose not to hear what I said on BBC's Question Time (when I appeared with Paddy Ashdown, Tam Dalyell and the admirably thoughtful Philip Lader to discuss what the US and the rest should do next) and in my column yesterday.

I have said many times over that these murders were grotesque and inexcusable. Some sections of the media are already whipping up anger against the BBC programme, claiming it was gratuitously "anti-American". It was not. We talked in a grown-up way about how America had to go in for a period of reflection now about its image and how in a globalised world the only superpower would have to be more self-critical and respectful of others.

So may we not even say such thoughtful things about the US without being branded in this way? Is this the meaning, then, of freedom of speech, which I am very grateful, of course, to enjoy, living as I do here and not in Saudi Arabia or Iran. How can I be anti-American? All the people who inspired me when I was young were American people such as the Kennedys, James Baldwin and those in the civil rights movement.

My best friend is American, also Muslim and Asian like me, but married to a Jewish American. Their children are called Adam, Sarah and David and I love them as my own. They live in Pittsburgh and we were distraught for hours after the planes crashed. I belong to two influential networks, which bring together American and British systems, and through these I have come to know and like many key players in the US bankers, writers, chief executives and others and I am not yet sure if any of them were killed or maimed by the actions of young men who look like my son.

No, I have not lost a loved one and those which have must feel an agony which completely overshadows my anxieties but please don't insult me by saying that I have not paid any attention to the pain of America. It is 11am on Friday and the silence to remember the dead physically hurt me: the images of the people who died, such as the lovely 4-year-old Julianna McCourt and her mother, Ruth, who must have clutched her so tightly as they died. Or the African American flight attendant CeeCee Lyles and all the others that perished and who will not easily be forgotten.

I am overcome with hate when I see the faces of those who it now seems highly likely were to blame. We should all know that unless we can force ourselves beyond this hate and think about the invisible forces which have set the world alight and try to understand what kind of soil, what poisons, made these men and women and many more similar people to come in the future. It might seem too soon for this analysis, but maybe we can only do this now while we are so shocked. Muslims worldwide need to think of how we have been silent when Muslim leaders carry on brutishly.

All Muslims, young and old, who unthinkingly damn the West (sometimes while living in the West) should examine the effect of such a diet of prejudice on their young. Jewish people of conscience should be thinking today of how much hatred Israel's recent policies are sowing. It should be obligatory for enlightened Jewish people to challenge any view of Palestinians as vermin. The former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, has trotted out so much prejudice that it was hard to feel any sympathy for Israel even amongst open-minded Muslims.

Equally, Palestinians and others should be confronting their own demonic anti-Semitism and feeling shamed that some of their people were seen laughing at the dead. Europe has to examine its long history, and superiority and hostility to the non-Christian worlds. And America, the victim country, has much work to do even as it decides on its course of action, which will of necessity have to be tough, of course.

The former US Assistant Secretary of State, James Rubin, has talked a good deal this week about the United States as a uniquely civilised nation. The idea of America and only America as civilised or free or democratic is simply helping to distance Americans from the rest of the world. More questions need to be asked about why this country, the United States of America, has supported so many bloody tyrants in recent history, and to remember that others too suffer from terrorism: after all, bin Laden's actions killed more than 250 Africans in Kenya and Tanzania.

Only with this massive universal self-examination can we move towards a global civilisation. We share your grief, America totally. But you must share our concerns. Encouragingly enough, I received 300 e-mails yesterday from American citizens who replied to my column and who seem to agree that this is essential.

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