I wanted to wait till more or less the same time of day that I heard about it, to write this. No real reason, I suppose, except to wonder idly whether I would feel the same mixture of bewilderment and anger that I did then.
We sat at the dining table, around a shortwave radio. In 1992, as we had in 1975 and 1977, we turned to BBC to tell us the significant news about our own country. Like millions of others around the country, we knew AIR would fail us in our need to know, and that BBC would not. The irony there is striking by itself. But of course on that day in 1992, as in 1975 and 1977, we were not remotely interested in the irony.
Instead, I remember my open-mouthed amazement. Was I really hearing what I was? Was it possible that in the late 20th Century, a couple of hundred thousand men were swarming onto a mosque and breaking it down stone by stone, and that this was being hailed as an act of national honour? My honour?
You want to know what that obscene event changed forever? Bear with me.
In 1979, I ran for President of my college Student Union. (I got 17 votes out of about 2000 cast, but that debacle is not my point). The winner was a tall, athletic classmate with a genial smile. His name? Humayun Khan.
Not once in the years I knew him, and certainly never in the weeks he ran his campaign, did anyone make the connection between his name and a religion. (Any religion). This was secularism in the best way: religion was simply irrelevant to the relationships we formed, and certainly to the way we voted.
That is what that obscene event has changed forever.
For today, I know that you, reading my friend Humayun's name a few seconds ago, have already noted to yourself what his religion probably is. To my continuing shame, I know I think that. It remains utterly irrelevant to how I remember Humayun, but I think it. I know that if we held that election today, people will bring up the respective religions of the respective candidates and whisper insinuations about.
That is what that obscene event has done to us, to my country. My country.
But you know what? This is indeed my country. I have a stake in it that's just as firm and unshakeable as anybody else's here; and far more firm and unshakeable, I believe, than people who find national honour in vandalism. A hell of a lot of us have that stake. We're not about to give it up, we're not going away. We will fight for what this country is about every bit as passionately as anyone else. More.
And sometimes I think, maybe that resolve is what that obscene event has really brought about. There are silver linings, after all.