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Kavita N. Ramdas Headshot

Ten Years Since 9/11... Swords to Ploughshares?

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Every TV channel has a special show about it. George Bush is on National Geographic. The kids who were third graders then are now high school seniors. Oprah interviewed widows. The Economist has a cover of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The New York Times has asked readers to submit their entries about their memories of that day ten years ago. If you live in America today, it is impossible not to be reminded of the day when everything changed for the United States, and, therefore, and therefore, simply because it was the US... for the world.

And yet, each time we scan our phones or check our news headlines we are reminded of the quotidian quality of loss. The starving children in Somalia. The missing girls in India and China whose quiet gendercide dwarfs the genocides of the 20th century. The 400-plus Pakistanis who died this summer as bodies were flung by the roadside. The bloodied vaginas of women and girls in the Congo, Bosnia, Kashmir and Rwanda. The numbers numb, we lose the close up as they blur together. We cannot compare them to the narrative of 3,000 lives lost one perfect blue sky morning. Here.

Ten years ago those attacks hit a super power confident of its status and its resounding economic, political, and military might. And so, the fallout of 9/11 reverberated through the rest of the world and into the intimate details of our lives. The attacks and the decision by the United States to respond with overwhelming military force shifted perceptions, forced alignments, created new categories. It was an autumn of US flags. It seemed we were the only ones who did not have any our porch or in our car. Friends we'd known for years wanted to know why my husband was not speaking out against "Muslim extremists." Others sent us emails explaining how Islam was fundamentally to blame for terror in the world.

Our 7-year-old asked solemnly why so many of the "bad guys" had the same last name as she did -- Ahmad. Later I got a call from her school principal apologizing for what had happened, saying, "I hope Mira is ok?" I learned that two classmates in 3rd grade had been calling her Mira Hussein. Rage and fear engulfed me, but Mira just laughed it off, saying, "Amma, they're just mean boys and they are mean to everyone."

When my parents heard the story, my father joked that Mira might be better off changing her last name to Ramdas from Ahmad. We didn't know then that for the next 8 years Mira and my husband Zuli would be on the special list every time we flew anywhere. We could never check bags at the curb, we could never check in online. That was just one of many post-9/11 lists. The place where I worked, the Global Fund for Women, was on another list.

The Global Fund gives grants to women's groups all over the world in support of women's rights activists and social change entrepreneurs. They are women of faith like Sakena Yacoobi in Afghanistan and secular women like Yanar Mohammed in Iraq. They are daughters of Imams in Guinea and lawyers for human rights in Jordan. But, as Muslims they could be a security threat to the US. So, the Treasury department called us -- asked for files, demanded more information about our grantees, required that we check the names of recipients against a "terrorist list" that read like a list of the names of our relatives -- Iftikhar, Vaqar, Omar, Ahmad, Mohammed, Nisar, Altaf, Pervez, ...

We unanimously agreed that we would inform all our grantees that we were being required to do this and that we had agreed only because we did not want to jeopardize the courageous work that women were doing around the world. We understood if some grantees could not accept our funding because it compromised their core values. And, we fought back -- within the Council on Foundations, a small progressive group of funders resisted the call from the Office of Foreign Asset Control at the Treasury department to tighten our giving guidelines in a manner that could "advance US foreign policy". We agreed to be defendants of an ACLU lawsuit that challenged wiretapping and email hacking in the name 0f "national security". We closed our office and marched with thousands of people in 2003 in protest against the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.

When we lost that battle, we regrouped recognizing that the women of the world needed us more than ever. Needed flexible operating funds now that their reproductive rights were threatened, now that they faced war and conflict in their villages and cities so that the United States could guarantee it's citizens "a secure homeland". We raised over $10 million for a Now or Never Fund to put immediate capital into the hands of women advancing reproductive rights and health, challenging fundamentalism of all kinds, and combating the ravages of war and militarism. We launched a Middle East and North Africa strategic initiative to raise resources and visibility for women who needed to speak in their own voices about their needs and priorities. We found our political voice and we stood in solidarity with those seeking a world of peace, justice, and equality.

Looking back, I realize how blessed I have been to spend these past ten years surrounded by people of great personal and professional courage. My husband has refused to become cynical even as the repercussions of 9/11 continue to suck Pakistan into a wretched spiral of violence. Our daughter has grown into young woman proud to be Pakistani, Indian, and American. At the Global Fund for Women and my travels to places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, and Palestine, I learned, how, despite it all, women daily wrest hope from despair. I betted on hope too -- in my first act as a citizen of United States -- I voted for Barack Hussein Obama. And, earlier this year, we all watched the people of Egypt and Tunisia topple dictators in their quest for democracy and freedom. Arundhati Roy famously once said,"Another world is not only only possible, she is on her way." My wish for the United States this tenth anniversary is to lay down its sword and shield and welcome her.

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