As a journalist covering the high-tech world, it's no surprise that I regularly receive e-mails from industry contacts with comments they'd like to share. Most of them are insightful and rarely do they transcend the world of IT. But then again, rarely do we experience an event like the one we watched last week--one that reaches all the way down to the core of what it means to be an American, and a human being.
Earlier this week I received an e-mail from Bicky Singh, president and CEO of Future Computing Solutions, a consulting firm based in Yorba Linda, Calif. I had the chance to interview Singh several months ago for a story I wrote on solution providers serving the SMB market and have since maintained a friendly relationship with Singh, who sometimes sends me his thoughts about issues in the marketplace.
But upon opening this e-mail, I knew Singh's intention was different. It began with the sentence: "I would like to share a personal message of urgent importance with you."
Like other IT executives have done in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks, Singh sent out a note to colleagues and friends lamenting the tragic events caused by those purveyors of hate and asking Americans to remain strong and persevere through difficult times. But this message went a step further. He was asking us as an industry to unite against another kind of hate--bad feelings and prejudices that are sprouting up against certain groups of people as a result of the assault.
"America has wept, we are beginning to see the ways in which the country has been transformed," wrote Singh. "As the dust settles, what is emerging is just as nefarious and damaging as the tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: The nation is being swept by an epidemic of hate."
For any rational human being living in a "normal" society, Singh's message is irrefutable. Hate is bad. Case closed. But in this new environment of fear and suspicion, I began to wonder about how people will react to that message in the days, weeks and months to come.
During last week's terrorist attacks, millions of U.S. citizens--not to mention our neighbors in the world at large--were glued to their televisions, watching the tragedy play out in real-time. I was no exception. Having missed the morning train that would have brought me into mid-town Manhattan just before the attacks occurred, I spent my day at home bouncing back and forth between my television and computer to follow news. (During the height of the tragedy, my cable modem was the only reliable way of keeping in touch with friends and relatives who couldn't be reached by overwhelmed telephone lines.)
What unfolded was a scene few of us could ever imagine and none of us will ever forget. As a Staten Island, N.Y. native, living my entire life only a few short miles from the heart of downtown New York, I couldn't even begin to count the number of people I know who were working in or near the financial district. For "Islanders," the joke has always been that a morning commute on the Staten Island Ferry is like a class reunion for grade school, high school and college combined. And for anyone unfamiliar with Staten Island, it also has the highest per capita concentration of firefighters and police officers in the entire city. Many of my closest friends are members of those ranks, and I knew they'd soon be in the middle of this hell.
Needless to say, the horror of what I watched was followed by the numbing realization that my life would be directly impacted--whether it be lost family, friends, colleagues or former classmates. I spent the next few days just waiting for those inevitable telephone calls and looking for familiar names in the obituary section of the local newspaper.
I was angry. I wanted revenge. And I still do.
Almost immediately, news about the alleged hijackers and the events leading up to the attacks started to unfold, painting a clearer picture of just how complex this web of hate had become. For me, one of the most startling pieces of information was the fact that authorities identified the suspected hijackers as "sleepers" who kept a low profile as ordinary citizens until being called to action. If those men were able to integrate themselves so convincingly into American life and dedicate years to this charade, I wondered, who knows how many more may be doing the same, waiting in the wings for some signal or directive to take action? A frightening thought--and one that suddenly made me want to look at everyone around me a little more suspiciously.
When I read Singh's message, I thought once again of that unavoidable fear and suspicion that stirred within me. But it led to a new concern--the long-term effects this event will have on every honest, hard-working American of Middle-Eastern descent. Will every white collar professional, blue collar laborer and homemaker who has been living for years as a respected member of our community suddenly be looked upon as a potential threat? We have already heard the reports of increased violence and hate attacks against citizens whose religious beliefs and traditional attire made them look 'suspicious.' The situation turned deadly over the weekend in Mesa, Ariz., where a gunman killed 49-year-old Balbir Singh Sodhi, the owner of a local gas station. Media reports suggest Sodhi was targeted because of his Middle-Eastern appearance and attire--which included a turban.
In reality, Sodhi wasn't a member of any dangerous terrorist ring. He didn't have ties to the Taliban. Instead, he was a member of the peaceful Sikh religion, which began in India more than 500 years ago. The religion has more than 20 million followers worldwide. Singh is also one of them--and he too wears a turban.
"Sikhism preaches tolerance and the absolute equality of all people without regard to race, color, gender and creed," wrote Singh. "I am a Sikh, and I am an American."
Like Singh, Americans for the most part are good, caring people, acknowledging and embracing the fact that our country's diverse population makes it unlike anyplace else in the world. It has been that way since the beginnings of this great country. Unfortunately, there will always be the small minority of people who will lash out in anger, fear and desperation during times of trouble.
As Americans, we have every right to be angry. We have every right to demand swift and powerful justice. But if we as citizens rush to judge or punish our neighbors based simply on their name, wardrobe or religion, we will destroy everything that makes America what it is. And if we do that, then the terrorists have already succeeded in their mission.
In Singh's words, "I wish you all safety and strength as we prepare for the hard times ahead. God Bless America!"