by Ramaa Bharadvaj

Oct 2001

Hello buddies of mine!

You are all probably getting many e-mails about the recent happenings in New York and Washington. Here is one more - from my little saddened heart.

I have been talking to my students, all these little AMERICAN (of Indian heritage descent) - 8 and 9 year olds. “What would you do now, if I made you the president of United States” was my question. The answers were interesting. Yesterday one child said “I would close the gates and not allow any of these foreigners to come into our country.” It shocked me to hear that. “What are your mom and dad? Foreigners?” I asked. She didn't realize that's what she was saying.

I have been facing this a lot over the 4 days. ”Ramaa! Don't wear those salwar dresses. Afghan people dress like that” say some Indian friends to me. “Ramaa, you should wear a big dot on your forehead so that everyone knows that you are a Hindu, and not one of those Muslim people” say other Hindu pals of mine. At a time when we should unite and feel one as Americans, we are already becoming divided, fearing one another (and irresponsible statements made by the likes of Jerry Falwell don't help any!). I love this country. For 23 years this has been my home. This is my adopted land. I brought up my children here. I have lived longer here than in my own land of birth. I have gotten used to the hyphenated identity of Indian American. But in my heart, I am an American first. My children are Americans. I feel the pain, the blood and the sorrow and even the helplessness that many are feeling right now. But all of a sudden, I am afraid. It scares me to hear speeches made of the whites versus the non whites, gays versus straight, and of course references to “those damned foreigners”.

The following two pieces of excellently written messages came to me - the first from one of my dearest friends Don Bondi and another sent to me by a student of mine. They are thought provoking. I wanted to share it with all of you. They are messages about hyphenated citizens from two different perspectives - one from a true American (as if there is any such thing) and another from an Afghan-American. I think you will like it. Please feel free to share it with all you like

In Peace, Love and Patriotism
Ramaa Bharadvaj

American Says

To ALL Concerned - I've been thinking. During all this tragedy I've not once heard of a hyphenated American being killed or hurt-ONLY AMERICANS. MAYBE it is time we all got rid of those pejorative terms we have become accustomed to using. MAYBE, just maybe it's OK to be called an American period, without trying to divide our nationality with hyphens. I remember when as a little boy and my father was called “wob or dago,” he always replied, “NO, I”m an American.” YES, I am an American. (Not Italian-American or Irish-American BUT AMERICAN) What are you??? AND if this is too drastic at least let's reverse the order- American-Italian, etc.

Another memory of the stupidity of this terminology-during the Olympics when Kristy Yamaguchi was competing and eventually won the gold in Japan she was always referred to as an American and her opponent the Japanese skater was Japanese, as rightly it should have been. Let us rethink these pejorative, divisive, and political terms and see us ALL as Citizens of the United States of American. That does not mean we should ignore our heritage, but it is just that, a heritage not where our allegiance lies.
And while I'm at it let's get rid of the phrase “Seeing grown men cry.” I've never seen or heard the term “seeing grown women cry.” (smile). I know this may be simplistic or idealistic but hey so what. Love you all.

- Don

Afghan - American says

Tamim Ansary is an Afghani-American writer. Here is his take on Afghanistan and the whole mess we are in.

I've been hearing a lot of talk about “bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age.” Ronn Owens, on KGO Talk Radio today, allowed that this would mean killing innocent people, people who had nothing to do with this atrocity, but “we're at war, we have to accept collateral damage. What else can we do?” Minutes later I heard some TV pundit discussing whether we “have the belly to do what must be done.”

And I thought about the issues being raised especially hard because I am from Afghanistan, and even though I've lived here for 35 years, I've never lost track of what's going on there. So I want to tell anyone who will listen how it all looks from where I'm standing.

I speak as one who hates the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. There is no doubt in my mind that these people were responsible for the atrocity in New York. I agree that something must be done about those monsters.

But the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think “the people of Afghanistan” think “the Jews in the concentration camps.” It's not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators. They would exult if someone would come in there, take out the Taliban and clear out the rats nest of international thugs holed up in their country.

Some say, why don't the Afghans rise up and overthrow the Taliban? The answer is, they're starved, exhausted, hurt, incapacitated, suffering. A few years ago, the United Nations estimated that there are 500,000 disabled orphans in Afghanistan-a country with no economy, no food. There are millions of widows. And the Taliban has been burying these widows alive in mass graves. The soil is littered with land mines. The farms were all destroyed by the Soviets. These are a few of the reasons why the Afghan people have not overthrown the Taliban.

We come now to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, that's been done. The Soviets took care of it already. Make the Afghans suffer? They're already suffering. Level their houses? Done. Turn their schools into piles of rubble? Done. Eradicate their hospitals? Done. Destroy their infrastructure? Cut them off from medicine and health care? Too late! Someone already did all that.

New bombs would only stir the rubble of earlier bombs. Would they at least get the Taliban? Not likely. In today's Afghanistan, only the Taliban eat, only they have the means to move around. They'd slip away and hide. Maybe the bombs would get some of those disabled orphans; they don't move too fast, they don't even have wheelchairs. But flying over Kabul and dropping bombs wouldn't really be a strike against the criminals who did this horrific thing. Actually it would only be making common cause with the Taliban-by raping once again the people they've been raping all this time. So what else is there? What can be done, then? Let me now speak with true fear and trembling. The only way to get Bin Laden is to go in there with ground troops. When people speak of “having the belly to do what needs to be done” they're thinking in terms of having the belly to kill as many as needed. Having the belly to overcome any moral qualms about killing innocent people. Let's pull our heads out of the sand. What's actually on the table is Americans dying. And not just because some Americans would die fighting their way through Afghanistan to Bin Laden's hideout. It's much bigger than that folks. Because to get any troops to Afghanistan, we'd have to go through Pakistan. Would they let us? Not likely. The conquest of Pakistan would have to be first. Will other Muslim nations just stand by? You see where I'm going. We're flirting with a world war between Islam and the West.

And guess what: that's Bin Laden's program. That's exactly what he wants. That's why he did this. Read his speeches and statements. It's all right there. He really believes Islam would beat the west. It might seem ridiculous, but he figures if he can polarize the world into Islam and the West, he's got a billion soldiers. If the west wreaks a holocaust in those lands, that's a billion people with nothing left to lose, that's even better from Bin Laden's point of view. He's probably wrong, in the end the west would win, whatever that would mean, but the war would last for years and millions would die, not just theirs but ours. Who has the belly for that? Bin Laden does.
Anyone else?

- Tamim Ansary

by Arun Gandhi

Understandably, after the tragedy in New York and Washington DC on September 11 many have written or called the office to find out what would be an appropriate nonviolent response to such an unbelievably inhuman act of violence.

First, we must understand that nonviolence is not a strategy that we can use in a moment of crisis and discarded in times of peace. Nonviolence is about personal attitudes, about becoming the change we wish to see in the world. Because, a nation's collective attitude is based on the attitude of the individual. Nonviolence is about building positive relationships with all human beings - relationships that are based on love, compassion, respect, understanding and appreciation.

Nonviolence is also about not judging people as we perceive them to be - that is, a murderer is not born a murderer; a terrorist is not born a terrorist. People become murderers, robbers and terrorists because of
circumstances and experiences in life. Killing or confining murders, robbers, terrorists, or the like is not going to rid this world of them. For every one we kill or confine we create another hundred to take their
place. What we need to do is to analyze dispassionately what are those circumstances that create such monsters and how can we help eliminate those circumstances, not the monsters. Justice should mean reformation and not revenge.

We saw some people in Iraq and Palestine and I dare say many other countries rejoice the blowing up of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It horrified us, as it should. But, let us not forget that we do
the same thing. When Israel bombs the Palestinians we either rejoice or show no compassion. Our attitude is they deserve what they get. When the Palestinians bomb the Israelis we are indignant and condemn them as vermin who need to be eliminated.

We reacted without compassion when we bombed the cities of Iraq. I was among the millions in the United States who sat glued to the television and watched the drama as though it was a made for television film. The television had desensitized us. Thousands of innocent men, women and children were being blown to bits and instead of feeling sorry for them we marveled at the efficiency of our military. For more than ten years we have continued to wreak havoc in Iraq - an estimated 50,000 children die every year because of sanctions that we have imposed - and it hasn't moved us to compassion. All this is done, we are told, because we want to get rid of the Satan called Sadam Hussein.

Now we are getting ready to do this all over again to get rid of another Satan called Osama Bin Laden. We will bomb the cities of Afghanistan because they harbor the Satan and in the process we will help create a
thousand other bin Ladens.

Some might say we don't care what the world thinks of us as long as they respect our strength. After all we have the means to blow this world to pieces since we are the only surviving super-power. Do we want the world to respect us the way school children respect a bully? Is that our role in the world?

If a bully is what we want to be then we must be prepared to face the same consequences as a school-yard bully faces. On the other hand we cannot tell the world leave us alone. Isolationism is not what this world is built for.

All of this brings us back to the question: How do we respond nonviolently to terrorism?

The consequences of a military response are not very rosy. Many thousands of innocent people will die both here and the country or countries we attack. Militancy will increase exponentially and, ultimately, we will be faced with another, more pertinent, moral question: what will we gain by destroying half the world? Will we be able to live with a clear conscience?

We must acknowledge our role in helping create monsters in the world and then find ways to contain these monsters without hurting more innocent people and then redefine our role in the world. I think we must move from seeking to be respected for our military strength to being respected for our moral strength.

We need to appreciate that we are in a position to play a powerful role in helping the other half of the world attain a better standard of life not by throwing a few crumbs but by significantly involving ourselves in constructive economic programs.

For too long our foreign policy has been based on what is good for the United States. It smacks of selfishness. Our foreign policy should now be based on what is good for the world and how can we do the right thing to help the world become more peaceful.

To those who have lost loved ones in this and other terrorist acts I say I share your grief. I am sorry that you have become victims of senseless violence. But let this sad episode not make you vengeful because no amount of violence and killing is going to bring you inner peace. Anger and hate never do. The memory of those victims who have died in this and other violent incidents around the world will be better preserved and meaningfully commemorated if we all learn to forgive and dedicate our lives to helping create a peaceful, respectful and an understanding world.

Arun Gandhi - Founder Director
M.K.Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
650 East Parkway South
Memphis TN 38104
Tel:(901)452-2824; FAX: (901)452-2775