Reflections on 9/11: A story of faith
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Looking back at September 11, 2001, I cannot help but feel that it was one of the most deeply painful and life-changing events I have ever experienced. It is also something, I hope, we never have to experience again.
I am not naïve enough to suggest that September 11 is the only time when innocent lives were taken or, sadly, will be the last time such a thing happens. Visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial for the victims of the Holocaust, earlier this year, I glimpsed the hate, horror and enormous tragedy of that event.
But September 11 was up close and personal. Personal in the sense that it happened in my country, to my people, in a location right next to where I once worked, a place I walked through each day on my way to and from the office, and where I had passed the day before.
September 11 is even more personal than that, however. One of the victims was the son of my then CEO, my mentor, and one of the most decent and upstanding human beings I know. Another victim was someone with whom I had attended the US Open Women’s Tennis Finals a couple of days earlier. And perhaps what hurts as much as anything else is that those responsible grew up in my faith and acted (oh, how I wish it weren’t true) believing that they were defending it.
I was in midtown Manhattan at my company’s headquarters, on a business trip from San Francisco, when it happened. We were getting ready for our Board meeting. My CEO, Tom, received a call from his younger son, Scott, which was unusual because Scott knew his Dad had a Board meeting. Scott wanted to reassure his Dad that he, Scott, was fine because he was in the tower that was still standing. Alas, it was the last time Tom ever spoke with his dear, precious son. We could only watch and imagine what Tom and his family went through then and still go through thinking about that day.
Yet as we mourn the victims of September 11, and I don’t think we can ever mourn enough, there are also stories of courage and inspiration. Tom, who was always someone I admired as a leader and a mentor for many years, has since become my source of inspiration — my hero. A devout Catholic, married to an Episcopalian, Tom drew strength from his faith, his family, and his friends. In spite of the fact that those responsible for the loss of Scott’s life professed my faith, Tom has never made me feel diminished or responsible. Indeed, even though I no longer work for him, we have gotten closer. Since September 11, Tom has focused his life on being a force for good in this world.
September 11 made me reflective about myself, my love for my country and my heritage and faith. I have always loved America, even from the time I was growing up in India, surrounded by Stars and Stripes. I continue to love America and am still surrounded by Stars and Stripes. So I asked myself whether just loving my country was enough and how could I actually serve it.
I am proud of my heritage, and the faith I grew up with taught me to be tolerant, respectful and understanding of others in the diverse and multi-cultural surroundings of India. So I asked myself if sharing my experience could help build greater understanding and respect among people. Finally, watching Tom has inspired me to get actively engaged in fighting hatred, ignorance and prejudice.
I have become engaged in promoting moderation and respect for all faiths and in trying to bring the Children of Abraham — Jews, Christians and Muslims — closer together. No question, any person who harms my country is my foe, and I have condemned and continue to condemn those responsible for what happened on September 11, but I refuse to unfairly indict a whole faith.
While I cannot predict the outcome of my September 11 inspired attempts to make a difference, I am now dedicated to channeling my feelings of anger and hurt into positive action. While I am grateful and indebted to those who serve and protect our nation and can never match their contribution or sacrifice, in my own way, I am hoping to serve America by trying to ensure that September 11 does not succeed in destroying our spirit as a force for positive change in the world.
One of the best ways in which we can commemorate September 11 and honor those who are no longer with us is by each one of us, in our own special way, rekindling that American spirit and proudly becoming forces of positive change.
S.A. Ibrahim, CEO of Radian Group, Inc., grew up in Hyderabad India where he attended Osmania University before studying business administration and finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.