There are two 9/11s at a distance of a century. While the earlier date made an appeal of uniting the whole world and humanity into single brotherhood, peace, harmony and acceptance, the recent one propagated the message of violence, bloodshed, division and clash! Which 9/11 must be imbibed and embraced by the humanity?
Swami Vivekananda and the 9/11 he represented left behind a legacy which was truly Hindu and Bharatiya and which accentuated the fact that love triumphs hate
At the heart of the above question, there are two ideas. The 9/11 of 1893 was represented by Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu and Bharatiya, at Chicago in the Parliament of Religions. The message of love, triumphs, hate and how all the humanity must seek to find one world religion was at its core. The 9/11 of 2001 was represented by Islamists who disseminated the message of violence and division. Who should we emulate? The time has come to retrieve the message of love from the hurl of hate.
Dates and events in history are the primary tools in manufacturing narratives. How do we mark the significance of one day over the other? Of course, it is done by the collective experience of the same. One date- 9/11 has been also marked in the same way, but more for the horrors, violence, and bloodshed it brought. The four different attacks on this same day in the US, most horrifyingly captured in our imagination by the sight of an airplane collapsing into the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, New York is still fresh in our memories. The world also has not forgotten the following Afghanistan War, Iraq War and many aerial attacks around the West Asia by the US-led NATO forces, calling it the ‘War on Terror’. This war still continues, persists and complicates itself. The Bush and Obama administration in America plunged a fair share of the world’s physical geography into bloodshed after the same Islamic Jihadists came haunting them, who were nurtured by the Americans at the heyday of the Cold War, to oust Soviet Union from Afghanistan.
However, by disbanding the date- 9/11, we tend to forget that some 108 years before the September 11, 2001 attacks, one monk from the heartland of Bharat had reached America as well. He won over the Americans with the message of love, and not hatred. He was open to accept all, and thought that to claim to be tolerant is actually an insult to others. The monk who claimed to have represented the ancient order of Vedic Sanyasis in then the youngest of the nations was accepted and embraced by all for his firm beliefs in the humanity.
Why must we not then celebrate 9/11 in the name of that Sanyasi- Swami Vivekananda? Why must we associate 9/11 to an Islamic Jihadist Osama bin laden and the American aggression which brought miseries to many innocent people for a whole decade or more? Before, answering those questions, we must go back to history to refresh our memories.
9/11 of 1893
On Monday, September 11, 1893, the first session of the Parliament of Religions was opened in the great Hall of Columbus, where were seated representatives of the religious beliefs of twelve hundred millions of the human race. In the centre sat Cardinal Gibbons, the highest prelate of the Roman Catholic Church on the Western Continent. On the right and left of him were gathered the Oriental delegates- Pratap Chandra Majumdar of Bengal and Nagarkar of Bombay who were representatives of the Brahmo Samaj; Dharampala who represented the Buddhists of Ceylon; Gandhi (a distant relation of Mahatma Gandhi) representing Jains, and Mr Chakravarty representing Theosophy with Mrs Annie Besant.
Among them was also seated Swami Vivekananda who, with his noble bearing, bright countenance and gorgeous apparel, drew the attention of the assembled thousands and soon became the cynosure of all eyes. When Vivekananda’s turn came up to speak, the history was awaiting its high wave! Hardly had he pronounced the very simple opening words, ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’, when hundreds rose to their feet with deafening shouts of applause. The Parliament had gone mad- everyone cheering the Swami enthusiastically. For two minutes he attempted to speak, but the wave of wild enthusiasm created by this significant form of address prevented it. He was certainly the first to cast off the formalism of the Congress and speak to the audience in the language for which they were waiting.
When Swami Vivekananda’s speech commenced, he quoted two beautiful, illustrative passages taken from the Hindu scriptures: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they may appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’
He continued with the second one, remarking that, ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.’ The short introductory speech, manifesting its spirit of universality, its fundamental earnestness and broadmindedness completely, captivated the whole assembly. The effect of these mighty words was tremendous. Over the heads of the official representatives of the Parliament they were addressed to a wider public, and Swami Vivekananda at once became the most celebrated personality of the Parliament. The American press rang with his fame! The New York Herald referred to him as ‘undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions’ and added, ‘After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation!’
Swamiji had reached America after travelling through many countries. He went by way of Ceylon, Penang, Singapore, Hongkong, and then visited Canton and Nagasaki. From there he went by land to Yokohoma, seeing Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. From Yokohama the ship sailed on to Vancouver-from the old World to the New; then by train he reached Chicago towards the end of July, 1893. Throughout his journey, Swamiji was much impressed by the sight of the various remains of the Bharatiya Dharma. In China he found to his amazement Sanskrit manuscripts, and in Japan Sanskrit mantras written in old Bengali script. Therefore, one can assume, that belief with which Swami Vivekananda captivated the American audience and delivered the message of Bhartiya Dharmik universality had been witnessed by him also! It was not just a speech; it was an experience, a manifestation of a historical truth! This historical truth of universal brotherhood has lived with the principle of acceptance, harmony, and respect for all encompassing everything which is Bharatiya and Hindu.
9/11 of 2001
On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington DC, and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which triggered major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism and defined the presidency of George W Bush.
The 9/11 escalated the on-going ‘Clash of Civilisation’ theory! American President Bush in his address soon after the attack declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Now who harbored those terrorists?
Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based there, began on October 7. Within two months, U.S. forces had effectively removed the Taliban from operational power, but the war continued, as US and coalition forces attempted to defeat a Taliban insurgency campaign based in neighboring Pakistan.
The planning of 9/11 attacks had started taking shape at least two years before the attacks. The idea for the attacks came from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who first presented it to Al-Qaeda chief and mastermind of the attack, Osama Bin Laden in 1996. At that time, bin Laden and al-Qaeda were in a period of transition, having just relocated back to Afghanistan from Sudan. In late 1999, a group of men from Hamburg, Germany arrived in Afghanistan; the group included Mohammad Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Ziad Jarrah, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh.
The attacks caused the deaths of 2,996 people and the injuries of more than 6,000 others. The death toll included 265 on the four planes (from which there were no survivors), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon. Nearly all of those who perished were civilians with the exceptions of 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement officers, 55 military personnel, and the 19 terrorists who died in the attacks.
Numerous incidents of harassment and hate crimes against Muslims and South Asians were reported in the days following the attacks. Sikhs were also targeted because Sikh males usually wear turbans, which are stereotypically associated with Muslims. There were reports of attacks on mosques and other religious buildings (including the firebombing of a Hindu temple), and assaults on people, including one murder: Balbir Singh Sondhi, a Sikh mistaken for a Muslim, was fatally shot on September 15, 2001, in Mesa, Arizona.
On October 7, 2001, the War in Afghanistan began when the US and British forces initiated aerial bombing campaigns targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda camps, then later invaded Afghanistan with ground troops of the Special Forces. This eventually led to the overthrow of the Taliban rule of Afghanistan with the Fall of Kandahar on December 7, 2001, by U.S.-led coalition forces. Conflict in Afghanistan between the Taliban insurgency and the Afghan forces backed by NATO Resolute Support Mission is ongoing. The Philippines and Indonesia, among other nations with their own internal conflicts with Islamic terrorism, also increased their military readiness.
Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal
- Swami Vivekananda, Parliament of Religions, Chicago, September 11, 1893
Comparing the Two
Shortly after the hijacked planes crashed into New York’s World Trade Centre, the Ramakrishna Mission printed a startling poster. For us, said the Mission, every 9/11 is a day for celebrating peace and brotherhood. It is the date on which Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous “Sisters and Brother of America” speech at Chicago in 1893. This reminder was significant then and more significant now!
The 9/11 of 1893 is fascinatingly pertinent to the contemporary conundrums of the contemporary world. The World Parliament of Religions was a uniquely American endeavor- grounded in a celebration of reason as a basis for multi-faith dialogue and confidence in the dawn of an American century.
Vivekananda was there as a messenger of peace and brotherhood. When he arrived in Chicago, he found to his dismay that he had lost the address of the Committee. He was lost and did not know where to go. May be similarly, the way we are entangling with our own problems as the human race. However, the conscience inside Swamiji was not lost, it was awake! He passed the chilly night in a big empty box found in the railway freight yard. In the morning he wandered from door to door only to meet insults and rebuffs from the fashionable residents of the metropolis. He didn’t complain! He didn’t get angry! And when somehow he reached the Parliament, he addressed audience as “Sisters and Brothers!”
This is the essence of the Hindu thought. Swami Vivekananda and the 9/11 he represented left behind a legacy which was truly Hindu and Bharatiya and which accentuated the fact that love triumphs hate, universal brotherhood will win over the communalism, and harmony as a goal must surpass all other pursuits! The 9/11 of 2001 underlines the fact that Islamic brotherhood can lead us to havoc, destruction and partisan. It is not about tolerance, far less about the acceptance of others. Now, it is for the humanity as a whole to decide which 9/11 we want to remember.