As the world remembers the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack on its 10th anniversary, very few people are familiar with the beautiful side of the now-considered ominous date of September 11. Though terrorists shook the U.S. in 2001 by bringing down the World Trade Center and killing nearly 3,000 people, an Indian ascetic named Swami Vivekananda stunned the U.S. on the same day 108 years earlier with a message of love and peace.
One of the most revered Hindu spiritual leaders, Vivekananda emphasized peaceful coexistence between different religions of the world in Chicago on September 11, 1893. While addressing the Parliament of Religions, he said, “I am proud to belong to a religion, which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true.”
On the final day of the event he stated, “If anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: ‘help and not fight’, ‘assimilation and not destruction’, ‘harmony and peace and not dissension’.”
Vivekananda inspired the youth of India by cautioning them against superstition and preaching social equality by helping the poor. He equally enthralled his American audience, and there was a big applause from those who attended the event.
It’s an irony of the situation that the terrorists picked September 11, 2001 to strike the same country that was visited by a messiah of peace in 1893.
Had Vivekandanda's teachings been followed by world leaders, including those running the U.S., there wouldn’t have been such an attack. After all, the U.S. establishment had been helping pan-Islamic extremists against Russia during the cold-war era. Islamic terrorists were receiving great assistance from the U.S. spy agency, the CIA, and from Pakistan’s ISI in their war against "Communist expansionism’". The Frankenstein monster created by the U.S. ultimately turned against it and killed its citizens.
Though Vivekananda was a staunch Hindu, he was not a fanatic. His brand of Hinduism was far more liberal and open.
Any experiment with religious fanatics for short-term gains can prove to be counterproductive. The 9/11 attack has created a yawning gap between Islam and other religions.
Even the ruling classes of Vivekananda’s home country have failed to show respect to his ideology. The political establishment of India has experimented by working jointly with religious fanaticism for short-term gains by dividing people on religious lines. As a result, there was a bloody partition between India and Pakistan in 1947.
Hindus and Muslims killed each other. And despite this bloodshed, Indian politicians continued to play with religious emotions of the people after independence.
The rise of Hindu and Sikh extremists, the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, and the anti-Muslim massacre of 2002 by state-sponsored goons reflect a tendency among Indian politicians to promote religious hatred.
The emergence of Sikh extremism came at the behest of Indian politicians; the subsequent anti-Sikh violence culminated in the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182, which was the worst incident in the history of aviation terrorism before 9/11. (A bomb was placed on a second Air India flight, which exploded at a Tokyo airport, killing two baggage handlers.)
Let there be a moment of self-reflection for everyone on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The dangerous cocktail of religion and politics should stop.
This is the least one can do to fulfill the dreams of Swami Vivekananda and prevent another catastrophe in the name of religion.