When Sept. 11 happened, I felt for those who lost loved ones in those senseless acts of terror. Yet truthfully, my sympathy did not extend much beyond what I usually feel for the lives lost in natural disasters and armed conflicts.
You see, I am not an American. I am a Singaporean, and despite sometimes turbulent neighborly relations, this island-state often resembles a relatively safe and stable cocoon.
Thus, despite being closer to the site of devastation than I usually am, I remained relatively untouched by the intense feelings of pain, empathy and insecurity that swept across America. If anything, the religious and racial insensitivity here in the immediate aftermath angered me as much as the attacks did.
As the months passed, my sympathy gradually gave way to mild irritation. I understand the American need to punish those responsible for Sept. 11, but I was irked by the overwhelming focus the world gave to Ameri-ca’s “new war on terrorism.” Although fighting raged in other hot spots, the war in Afghanistan hogged international headlines.
Then in December, terrorism arrived at the doorstep of the “little red dot” I call home. Thirteen members of an Islamic group were detained. Allegedly, they had proposed to Al-Qaeda a plan to bomb a train station.
Suddenly, terrorism was no longer someone else’s problem. Since I never experienced the bloody riots and bus bombings that plagued Singapore in the 1960s, violence like this always seemed so remote. Nor did I expect the security threat to come from within. The would-be perpetrators were Singaporeans, not foreigners.
Suddenly, like so many young Americans after Sept. 11, I realized that the threat of large-scale terror was no impossibility.
Had the nefarious plans been executed, there would have been widespread bloodshed for both Muslims and non-Muslims ? the social fabric holding this multi-racial and multi-religious nation together would have been torn apart.
America and Singapore may be thousands of miles apart, but their approaches to the present situation should be similar. As suspicions and resentment festers, and talk of racial profiling circulates, it is all too easy to give in to that instinctual distrust of “the other”.
In reality, Muslims are as much the victims of extremism as non-Muslims ? in order to fulfil their concept of “unma,” the global Muslim community, the terrorists do not care if other Muslims are killed in their attacks. Muslims and non-Muslims alike must demonstrate their understanding of and faith in each other’s communities.
There is no better way to thwart the terrorists than to nurture, through the inclusiveness, openness and tolerance of such gestures, the very social cohesion terrorism seeks to undermine.
Lee can be reached at email@example.com.