Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Mother's Son

There is a problem inherent to painting with a broad brush.  It tends to make a bit of a mess of things. Damn hard to stay between the lines when the implement you are using favors wide-ranging coverage over subtle precision. 

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, among the first responders who dashed headlong into harm's way at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan was a bright, earnest twenty-three-year-young man.  He was not a member of the FDNY, the PAPD or the NYPD - well not officially anyway.  He had, however, trained for several months as an NYPD cadet.  He was a certified EMT. So, when all hell broke loose that morning he decided that his job as a lab analyst at Rockefeller University's Howard Hughes Medical Institute on Manhattan's East Side would have to wait and he headed as fast as he could into the maelstrom that was Lower Manhattan.  It was, sadly, where he died, leaving behind his two younger brothers, his father and his mother. 

Rather than being lauded for his heroism, however, this young man was - almost unbelievably (I say "almost" because it was the New York Post that assumed the role of village organizer and torch ignitor) - branded a terrorist.  Why?  If you believe it was for a reason other than the fact that his parents named him Mohammad Salman Hamdani then I am prepared to offer you very favorable terms on the bridge that connects Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.  

In the thirteen-plus years since his death, his mother, Talat Halmdani, a retired high school teacher who has also had to bury her husband in the interim, has fought tirelessly for the justice she believes - and rightly so - that her son is owed.  Having read quite a bit on this young man - and his mom - over the course of the past several days, it seems to me that she seeks nothing more than that his sacrifice on that terrible Tuesday morning be recognized alongside that of all of the first responders who perished that day.   Considering the almost-unconscionable manner in which law enforcement, emboldened perhaps by the manner in which the New York Post reported its alleged story, treated him and his family by extension in the weeks and months following September 11, 2001, her disinterest in an apology of equal volume is almost off-putting.    

His body was found in the rubble that once was the North Tower.  Thirty-four pieces altogether. When he was buried, it was done with the full honors of the NYPD.  He was lauded as a hero by Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.  In the Patriot Act, he is cited by name as an example of Muslim-American valor.  Yet, his name does not appear on the NYPD Memorial.  His name appears, of course, on the National September 11 Memorial.  However, his name is not listed with the other first responders who died that day.  

In April 2014, a street in Queens was named in his honor.  The decision was universally applauded by the residents and merchants in the area, who had long known young Mr. Halmdani when he lived a block away from the street corner that now bears his name.  

Slightly less than thirteen years ago, in the aftermath of the most heinous act of terrorism ever perpetrated on American soil, a number of people - likely too many of us in fact - painted almost exclusively with broad brushes.  The mess made by the decision to use such a rudimentary, one size fits all approach is, in some places, still visible today.  For at least a few, the mess may well be one that can never be cleaned up in its entirety.  I suspect though that even if in her heart of hearts Talat Halmdani realizes that she is one of the unfortunate few she shall not give up her fight.  

She is his mother.  He is her son.  And that is simply the way it is.  


No comments: