Justice for Ehtesham U. Raja, My Friend


[Satellite photo of Manhattan on 9/11. The red circle is my own location at the time.]

by S. Abbas Raza

I hated Osama Bin Laden, and I suppose I probably had more personal reasons to hate him than most.

When I was just beginning grad school in the philosophy department at Columbia University, I met a remarkably self-assured young man who was an undergrad there at the time. We were both originally from Pakistan and I became a sort of mentor to him, despite the fact that most of the time he argued with me endlessly about almost everything. He was bright and vivacious, if headstrong, and a born leader. He was also very funny and made me laugh a lot. He took me to meet his parents and five-year-old brother at their hotel in midtown Manhattan Raja-ehtesham when they came from Pakistan for his graduation. They seemed extremely proud of their oldest of two children. After graduating from Columbia, he got an MBA from Emory University, and then joined a bank.

Unsurprisingly, he rose through the ranks at almost unbelievable speed and was a senior executive by the time he turned 29. Still having the boyish enthusiasms of a young man, he bought a BMW 740 iL, his pride and joy, which we cruised around in on many an evening, with me at the wheel as often as not. He talked about getting married to his girlfriend, a lovely American girl he had met a year or so earlier. Soon after, on the bright and crisp morning of September 11, 2001, he awoke early to get to a business meeting at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. His last phone call was to his girlfriend. He said he'd call again once he got out.

I was also in Manhattan on that day and suffered through the horror with everyone else. Many friends from downtown took shelter in my uptown apartment that day and for some nights to follow. [See my account of that day here.] Some suffered long-term consequences, others lost their jobs. The devastation caused a despair beyond sadness. But it wasn't just the thousands dead in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. It was also that in the coming years Bin Laden's murderous attacks precipitated conditions which directly or indirectly led to the deaths of thousands more in the country of my birth, gave rise to sectarian conflicts, and spread terrorism all over Pakistan and that whole region, in addition to the thousands of young Americans in uniform who have died fighting Al Qaida and protecting their fellow citizens, of whom I am also now one.

I am often surprised how many of my days are touched by the terrifying memories of 9/11. Just yesterday, for instance, I received a message from the young woman to whom my old friend Ehtesham was affianced. She has moved on and has a family and successful career now, but she mentioned that his younger (much younger) brother still has trouble dealing with the emotional fallout from Ehtesham's death, and she also still keeps in touch with his parents who remain inconsolable. Then, a bit later in the day, while surfing the internet I came across the satellite picture at the top of this post. I found it particularly moving and called my wife over to look at it, which then caused us to spend twenty minutes reliving that black day.

Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida organization were not only responsible for bringing the message of hate and intolerance to the United States, but also to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And his actions brought untold suffering to all these places and others. He deserved the violent death he got, and I am only sorry that it took so long for him to get what he richly deserved. But I am not celebrating. I think that it is, at the very least, in bad taste to celebrate anyone's death no matter how evil he or she may have been. What I will do after writing this is reply to the young woman whom Ehtesham planned to marry. I will tell her of my satisfaction at seeing justice for my friend Ehtesham and his family. And for her.

[3 Quarks Daily published a series of remembrances of 9/11 on the fifth anniversary of the attacks. You may look at those here.]