Like most Americans, I’d been forced to revisit the horror of September 11, 2001, on every anniversary for the past 19 years, as every television channel relentlessly replayed the familiar sequence of events, from the too-blue cloudless September sky to the slow-motion concertina of the two towers within a half hour of each other into a cloud of fulminating black dust.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I was determined to offer up an alternative.
For the experiment, I enlisted Dr. Salah Al-Rashed. A Kuwaiti from a prominent Arab family, Salah, who was also a peace activist, had single-handedly pioneered the human potential movement in the Arab world.
He is, for all intents and purposes, the Deepak Chopra of the Middle East, and, of all people, he would be able to drum up huge Arab participation in the experiment.
By the time of our experiment, the war had been raging on for almost 10 years. The Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan, the two large provinces in the south and the major strongholds of the Taliban, had incurred the highest number of war- and terrorist-related injuries and deaths among both military and civilians of any province in the country.
That was to be the target of our intention.
We ran the experiment over eight days, and some 25,000 participants from 75 countries participated, many in ingenious ways: by pulling over in their car, via a giant screen at an event, from a mountaintop, even during a Native American peace pipe ceremony.
For the broadcast, Salah started out with an unabashed apology on behalf of all Arabs for allowing the attacks to happen, and I returned the apology for the West’s “aggressive and violent response to 9/11.”
However justified America felt in invading Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, the fact remained that the Afghans had lost far more than we had. Most Westerners did not know that by 2011, some 100,000 innocent Afghan people had been killed, injured, detained, or deported.
For each of the eight days, during the intention, our website showed an image of an Afghan boy surrounded by white doves and an image of Caucasian and Arabic hands clasped—a symbol of the East and West coming together.
Then we embarked on a patient wait of three months to see if we’d had a response.
In January 2012, NATO’s Afghan Mission Network Combined Information Data Network Exchange database and a UN 2011 report concerning civilian casualties both showed a huge drop in the casualty rate that occurred among civilians and the military after our Peace Intention Experiment, specifically in our two provinces.
Overall, between September and November 2011, civilian casualties fell by an average of 37 percent, compared with the casualty rate in the month before our Intention Experiment.
Attacks with explosive devices fell by 19 percent and continued falling.
In 2011, overall initiated attacks by the Taliban had been climbing relentlessly upward until August. After our experiment in September, the numbers began a steep downward trend, falling drastically from October to December 2011, as did overall enemy-initiated attacks.
“This is the longest sustained downward trend in enemy-initiated attacks recorded by ISAF,” said the report, referring to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO-led mission set up by the UN Security Council leading the combat operations in the regions.
In fact, compared with the rest of the country, the southwest— the target of our intention—recorded the largest decrease in casualties, an extraordinary 790 percent decrease over the month before and a 29 percent decrease for the entire year compared to 2010. This trend carried on throughout that autumn.
What made our results even more compelling was the fact that the big decreases in violence that had occurred in our target provinces of Helmand and Kandahar had not been uniformly experienced around the country.
Although United States and NATO had already begun to wind down the Afghan war, that did not explain the concentrated lowering of violence in our two regions.
Something definitely seemed to be happening there, but something else was happening on Facebook and Instant Messenger, and the surveys I’d conducted of the participants about their experience, in English and Arabic.
Many of our Western participants began to instant message and befriend people from the Arab countries who could write in English—and vice versa.
“The experience of IM’ing with people from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many other Middle Eastern countries—during the IM messages, we wished each other peace and expressed love—made me cry,” wrote John from Tucson. “It was very therapeutic for me—a citizen of the USA.”
“This day is the day that we all felt the loss and no one felt the gain,” wrote Bahareh. “Your God is my God. My God is your God.”
Furthermore, participating in this experiment had brought peace into their lives, particularly their relationships. Three-quarters of my participants spoke of how their newfound sense of peace had improved relationships in every regard, particularly with estranged family members, and even employers.
A third of the participants were getting along better with people they normally dislike or argue with or made a pact to heal rifts. A majority said they felt more love for everyone they came in contact with. “I see myself in everyone I meet, experiencing their feelings, finding compassion,” wrote one.
Many claimed to have had “personal miracles” happen in their life.
Toni’s life had been torn apart when her sister and children had been murdered by the children’s father just a few weeks before 9/11. In her eyes, the Peace Experiment saved her life.
“Change happened that for a second destroyed all my faith until the love of the community and signs from the universe restored it and made me more grateful than ever,” she wrote.
“I poured a more intense Love than anyone else out into the universe that day as my heart shattered and soared simultaneously. The world remembered while we mourned. And many lives were changed forever.”
For many on either side, the experience had been extraordinarily healing, a simple means of breaching ideological divides. The outcome of the actual experiment again was almost irrelevant; the real healing was happening with the participants.
Joint prayer had itself brought the East and West together, had proved to be profoundly uplifting, and had given hope to many on both sides.
“Thank you, world,” Yasser wrote. “You’re still a good place, with all these peaceful people.”
I didn’t know if God had answered our prayer for peace, but certainly our prayers had given us a glimpse of God—and even a fleeting glimpse of heaven on earth.
“I had the sense that although we had a specific ‘target,’” said Aimee, “we were healing everyone everywhere at once.”
For the 20th anniversary of 9/11, join me in a Healing Afghanistan Intention Experiment on September 11, 2021 at 10 am PDT/1 pm EDT/6 pm UK/8 pm Middle East and experience the miraculous mirror effect of large group intention.
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