I really cannot be sure of whether or not I had ever heard of Islam before September 11 but obviously with that abhorrent attack came the knowledge that there was this other religion out there called Islam. My disdain of religions was really validated when I thought about a religion being related to this atrocity. This propelled me to embark upon a project I thought would be groundbreaking. I decided to prove all religions were man made. I was going to do it by methodically comparing them to political philosophies, which I had begun studying that same semester and found strikingly similar to religion. Flawed and conflicting with one another, they provided the perfect medium to show the world what I had come to believe: Religions were human falsifications and religious adherents, dupes.
This grand idea required me to read religious “scriptures”, so I bought a Bible, the Hindu scriptures, books on Buddhism, Taoism and thankfully, I managed to get a free copy of the translation of the Quran some time after I had begun my studies of the other books. The Quran stood out and quickly dominated my reading. It began to accompany me everywhere I went. I didn’t realize what was happening at the time. Its flow, accessibility and its message was so much more digestible, easy to understand and strikingly applicable. The other books, in comparison, had become a struggle to complete and my interest in them, and my project, slowly faded.
Meanwhile, I felt so disturbed by this new post-9/11 reality that I decided to take some time off from college. After that semester, I flew to Australia. I was running away, but the Quran and the other books came with me along with books by Bertrand Russell and other anti-religious “critical thinkers”. My goal remained intact, albeit weakened.
From Australia, I decided to travel to Southeast Asia, where I travelled through Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In Vietnam and Laos, there are some people who still have enmity and resentment toward America, lingering since the Vietnam War. To this day there remain signs of the war on the streets, such as people born with birth defects caused by Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant dropped into jungles by the US to expose enemy fighters during the war. It was difficult for me to see them begging on the streets, living a life of suffering, because of a war waged before I was even born. I don’t know how to describe the feeling; it was like remorse, shame. Seeing, in person, the suffering humans can cause one another was a profoundly overwhelming experience.