A section of the crowd. (All photos: Ras H. Siddiqui)
The 2016 Multi-faith Peace Picnic Program – “Honoring the victims of September 11th” held at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto, Calif., on Sept. 11, where over 500 people of various religions and ethnicities gathered to counter hate, writes Ras H. Siddiqui. – @siliconeer #siliconeer #HonoringSept11Victims #community #SouthAsian #siliconvalley #sfbayarea #society #remembrance
The 15th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks, fell on a Sunday this year and somber observances were held throughout the United States to remember the victims. One can only try and fathom the reasons for these horrific acts but one that certainly comes to mind is the goal of creating divisions amongst people, ethnicities and religions. But if that was one of the main objectives of bringing mass murder to America, thankfully it did not succeed. People here were bewildered and horrified but they defeated divisiveness and sought unity instead.
One great recent example of this unity was the 2016 Multi-faith Peace Picnic Program – “Honoring the victims of September 11th” held at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto, Calif., on Sept. 11, where over 500 people of various religions and ethnicities gathered to counter hate.
It was an amazing afternoon on a beautiful day with great food, music and entertainment sponsored by the American Muslim Voice Foundation, Multi-faith Voices for Peace and Justice, Dave Cortese, President, Board of Supervisors, Santa Clara County, and co-sponsored by over 40 other groups including the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
The event started with a Bridge of Peace, a Moment of Silence and the release of white doves as a symbol of peace. The sizable crowd next shifted to the Redwood Group Picnic Area where delicious food awaited some strong appetites. And just like the attendees, the cuisine there was as diverse as the attending crowd, as Chaat was served side-by-side Jewish bagels and Asian noodles. The breaking of bread between people is of great significance in almost all cultures and right here at this venue it further strengthened the bridges of human bonding. A Mexican dance performance by a group of young people also added a great deal of color to the event.
The formalities began with a welcome address including some encouraging words by the Mayor of Palo Alto, Pat Burt. The presence of Buddhist Monks in their colorful robes was also quite noticeable as we later discovered that some here were from the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale, Calif., whose Abbot Jianhu Shi next took the time to share his wisdom. Andrew Killie, President of SiVIC and Rabbi Amy Eilberg and Jake Tonkel from the Peace Corps were also amongst the handful of speakers and really moved the attentive crowd. And one cannot overlook the Muslim children here as Machelle Ahmed sang the late John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Emahn Sheikh also sang a song of peace. A group of Girl Scouts also participated and sang “If I had a Hammer” originally sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. And to add an official touch, Assemblymember Kansen Chu was on hand and presented a certificate of Recognition to American Muslim Voice Foundation (AMV) on the occasion of this Multi-faith Peace Walk and Picnic.
Another vocal moment was noteworthy. It was the periodic interruption by the same person yelling “9/11 was an Inside Job” during the speeches which provided a brief distraction. The person was not a minority but a mainstream Caucasian male who wanted to make his point and heard. The conspiracy theories connected to 9/11 are already well known but one is not sure if sharing them here was helpful.
The closing speech by Samina Sundas, executive director AMV was extremely moving, because it came from the heart. The pain and suffering caused by 9/11 has extended far beyond the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. America went to war soon after that day and is still fighting overseas. And the focus on America’s own Muslim community has not been easy on its members. They are often accused of not doing enough.
Samina said that her only request to all of here is “please, when the media or your fellow Americans say ‘Where are the Muslims? Why don’t they do anything?’ you will support us. This event (the Peace part) was co-organized by us,” she said. “Our contribution here is a labor of love. So if you hear people say that we are not doing enough can you be our Ambassadors? I thank you all so much from the bottom of my heart for joining us here,” said Sundas.