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Michael Gould-Wartofsky Headshot

A New York Teen Speaks Out, September 2001

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I was 16 when I wrote these words in September 2001.

As a New Yorker of Generation 9/11 and a staunch supporter of Park51, I am publishing them for the first time today. Although they were written nine years ago, I believe their message is more urgent than ever in light of the renewed escalation of religious and racial hatred, as embodied in the "Stop Islamization of America" campaign and its call to rally at Ground Zero today.

* * * * *

...In a time like this, after a month of moments of silence for the 5,000, we have to speak respectfully, and we have to speak humbly. But we have to speak, because we need a new way out of this darkness surrounding us.

We have to speak for the voiceless, for the people whose cries have been drowned out and silenced, for the forgotten victims, and ask that we remember them as we remember the other victims we hear about -- and should hear about -- like the heroes of the New York Fire Department, Police Department, and Emergency Medical Services who gave their lives to save others.

That we remember the 800 Muslims murdered at ground zero with the rest on September 11th, and the hundreds of their fellow Muslims all over our country who've been attacked in the weeks since--beaten, run over, shot, their kids and women harassed, targeted by law enforcement, their homes and businesses and mosques firebombed--by a few who call themselves American, who've chosen to add to the inhumanity of our times.

One of the things that many of us have learned or relearned is caring for each other, and for the value of human life. Don't let our caring stop at the border. Let us continue the struggle for a better world, so that we never let anything like this happen to anyone -- in America or anywhere else. Together, let our generation rise from the ashes and affirm the dignity of every human being.

* * * * *

A piece was torn out of our city Tuesday morning, taking thousands of human beings with it. Within a few hours, waves of agony, fear and rage swept across the country, engulfing me along with everyone else. Few words come close to describing what we were all feeling.

In the week since, deafening demands for revenge have become the norm. America must not now sink to a point closer to the level of the terrorists; Americans must not associate these atrocities with people who had nothing to do with them, for the sole reason that they may look or sound like those responsible.

This is the kind of association the terrorists made when they viciously picked their targets. The past week has seen assaults and arson, death threats and drive-by shootings targeting Muslim people, homes and holy places across America.

We must defend innocent lives here and abroad.

There are those who have persistently used the catastrophe to advance their own agenda, without a hint of media or public scrutiny. The security and intelligence communities who protected us from terror so well get all the civil liberties waivers they desire; President Bush secures his approval ratings with macho posturing and a token visit to our city; aging warriors get a blank check for a new war--one that could send thousands of young Americans into the land that gave Russia its Vietnam, to kill and maim on command (and create new terrorists?).

I can only hope that a movement for peace and humanity arises in time to stop this descending spiral.

My hope was revived by a candlelight vigil for peace I attended with thousands of fellow New Yorkers in Union Square Park Friday night, illuminating the words of a friend of my late father's, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness--only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate--only love can do that."

* * * * *

An elderly man in a turban is beaten unconscious with a baseball bat in Queens, as men of a similar description are shot dead in Arizona and Texas. Across America, mosques and businesses owned by Arabs and South Asians are burned to the ground, and Muslim children need to be escorted to and from school. A letter to an Arab civil rights group warns, "This is not a terrorist problem. It is an Arab problem. You will all die at the hands of Americans."

With over a thousand racial attacks reported since September 11th, the blood of innocents continues to flow. If these national trends continue, the terrorists will be able to claim victory. They will have accomplished in a slow burn what the flames of the World Trade Center could not-- the destruction of our most basic freedoms.

Could America's 7 million Muslims be interned or deported without due process, because of who they are? An INS plan for mass internment was recently revealed in court transcripts. With a majority of Americans supporting racial profiling in the "war on terrorism," who knows where it will end?

And what about the Americans who disagree? We're labeled as un-American. Whatever you think of the issues, would you consider someone un-American for speaking their mind? Or is it more un-American to deny people the right to speak their minds and worship their god? These are just some of the questions we have to ask today, while we still can.