Pakistan in the Shadow of 9/11 (Excerpt from Aboard the Democracy Train)

It was 9:15 am on September 11, 2001 when the phone rang. There was a strange urgency to the ring. It made me spring out of bed in my tiny apartment in Sunderland, Western Massachusetts and run to the other room to quiet it.

JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressing a rally in Pakistan. Photo Credit: Dawn

It was my relative, Shabnam, who had left Pakistan decades ago and lived in Houston, Texas. In the instances when we met on either side of the globe, I shared with her my adventures as a journalist. Given our mutual background, she reveled in the exciting stories I told her as a reporter for the nation’s leading newspaper.

Evidently, she knew me well enough to sense that this day – a day that changed the US – would change my life as well.

“Quick, turn on the television,” she said.

Alas, I told her, we didn’t have a television. My husband and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment and had only the sparse belongings of new immigrants.

We had arrived about a year ago from Pakistan and I had just finished teaching a course at the Women Studies Department in Amherst College, Massachusetts on Gender Politics in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“The trade towers in New York are burning. They say it was hit by an airplane,” she was saying.

Sensing it was a terrorist act, I rushed to turn on the radio. I was immediately drawn into the drama unfolding in downtown Manhattan, where I had worked as a journalist for two years during the 1980’s.

National Public Radio contributor, Ginger Miles, whose apartment overlooked the World Trade Towers, was on air.

I knew Ginger from my reporting at WBAI radio in New York. There was unmistakable excitement in her voice, sounding like journalists do when they inadvertently turn into part of the story.

Ginger fought her way through the smoke and debris blowing in through her windows as she spoke.

Her commentary about thick ash, which blew into her apartment from the collapsing trade towers, conjured up vivid images of the attack into the heart of capitalism.