Around the midnight hour as the 11th of September, 2001 ticked over in Australia, I was woken by the blaring TV unit my parents uncharacteristically turned on to watch the infamous events unfold in the safety of our Sydney home.
I had not long returned from a joyous trip to the United States with a gospel music group and came off American Airlines flight 11 exactly one week prior to it being flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre by a terrorist. I vividly recall the restrained approval my “moderate” Muslim parents had for the ideology that led to the destruction of $10 billion of infrastructure and almost 3,000 lives that day. I still wonder what their reaction would have been if I were on that flight a week later.
I grew up never knowing terrorism until then, sheltered by the stable and privileged life Australia offered to me after my parents migrated there in 1972. My idyllic mindset never questioned the hard heart of mankind that could ever commit themselves to such an atrocity. Clearly, either I fell asleep during my high school history classes, or past terrorist events were just never mentioned.
This was the world that felt more raw with genuine emotion and authenticity: when self-evident truths were affirmed by civil society and not met with name calling and cries of “intolerance”.
Nevertheless following 9/11, I suddenly developed concern over all of the friends I had just been acquainted with in the US. I tried to call several phone numbers to them in Boston, MA and Jacksonville, FL. Calls could not get through. This was the world before Facebook and touchscreen phones. I had a trusty Ericsson T10 mobile phone but it was of no use to me: there was no reassurance until much later that my friends were safe in their country under attack from within.
I also knew my own departure from Islam was not a mistake despite my parents’ constant barrage of messages to the contrary. My idealism turned into a reality check, which soon thereafter prompted my leaving the family home for safety reasons.
We must stop to appreciate the liberties we take for granted in this very blessed country of ours. If I were brought up in the Middle East, I would be dead many times over. But this Australian society is changing. Sometimes I wonder how this is possible: how within 17 years, we went from such raw emotion, gratitude and healthy nationalism to having to explain to people what real sacrifice and resilience is.
Have we so quickly forgotten our history and heritage to allow the legacy of the freedom fought for to just slip away in the name of “tolerance”? The tolerance for ideologies that seek our own demise? At what cost shall this tolerance be? Not for another 3,000 lives I sure hope.
Indeed, a nation attacked by its enemies can rise again, but one which disintegrates from within is doomed. If we truly value a free country that gives everyone a fair go, we must stand up for those values that uphold this way of life for the sake of our future generations.
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Dr Ashraf Saleh
Father of three kids and practicing family doctor, Ashraf served in the Royal Australian Navy as a medical officer from 2005-2012. He's a second generation Egyptian Australian, and a former Muslim.
Ashraf has a Bachelor of Medical Science (Cell Pathology) and Master of Nutritional Science (Metabolic Syndrome) from the University of Sydney, a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery from University of Qld, Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and Fellowship of Advanced Rural General Practice (Emergency Medicine).