By Simon Cohen
Founder, Managing Director of Global Tolerance
The painful events of 9/11 were felt in hearts across the world. Reports of ‘Muslim terrorists’ that followed the attacks, volatile videos of bin Laden timed to coincide with the memorials, have served only to compound the suffering and create fear and divisions between our brothers and sisters. In the face of repeated images of planes crashing into twin towers, fresh images and recordings that leave us feeling helpless, hopeless and scared, where can we look to for hope?
On September 11th 1906, Sheth Haji Habib, a Muslim merchant, declared that “with God as his witness” he would not bow to the oppressive Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of 1906. In doing so, he set something off in Gandhi that would change the course of history forever. That fateful moment in the Empire Theater in Johannesburg, South Africa, marked the birth of Satyagraha (‘the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence’), the modern non-violent movement. The ‘Other 9/11,’ Gandhi’s non-violent 9/11, triggered what he called ‘a weapon of the strong.’
It is a story that we might all do well to remember, and to share, as we honor the memorial of 9/11. For the shared date in history, the contrasting story of the positive power of faith, the role of a Muslim merchant in the global non-violent narrative, are all pregnant with news value as well as hope. After all, Gandhi’s Satyagraha inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to champion the U.S. civil rights movement, Nelson Mandela to fight apartheid in South Africa, and to free 3.3 billion through non-violent resistance over the last hundred years. Now that’s a global news story worth spreading.
Just as Al-Qaeda and others bent on division will continue to use the media to spread fear at this time of year, so moderate Muslims and people of all faiths must – in the spirit of Gandhi – prepare strategies to resist. The ‘Other 9/11’ narrative and the modern media may be powerful weapons in the peace-builders armory.
Tweets about #theother911 and Facebook posts dedicated to the memory of the birth of Satyagraha may seem to offer little hope in the face of our global challenges. But who, a hundred years ago, could have imagined the impact of a single raised voice of a Muslim merchant?
Simon Cohen delivers the public lecture: ‘The Other 9/11: Faith, Hope and the Media’ at Georgetown University at 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11. Visit Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs for more information. Simon can be followed on Twitter.
Simon Cohen is Founder and Managing Director of London-based Global Tolerance, a leading communications organization in the faith arena.