The right fire for the darkness

This morning’s news was riveting. And no one who remembers the tragedy of September 11, 2001, will fail to think about it today as the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death spreads.

For the families of those who died on on that day, the news probably means a bit of closure but little comfort. This death does not bring life. Neither does it deliver more than a symbolic victory over the darkness of this world. It does little to quell the perverted extremism that has captured so many hearts, and it may instead, like a great world bellows, blow new life into the fire of hate.

Against that hate, we can rail — or respond with a different kind of fire, what President James Madison termed “enlightenment.” I would contend that there is no better place to become enlightened in a shorter period of time than on a college campus where students from all walks of life, all religions, all ethnicities, diverse interests and opinions gather to learn. And what they learn in a classroom is equaled by what they learn from each other as members of that gathered community.

"Uncle Bijan" (far right) and colleagues receive the All Together One Award in 2001. (photo by Meghan Montgomery, The Breeze)

No one knows that better or practices it more thoroughly than Bijan Sadaatmand, professor emeritus of psychology at JMU. As an advocate and friend to many international and American students alike, “Uncle Bijan” — a native of Iran — is an outstanding ambassador for the world community. Anyone who knows him would have to think differently about Iran and the Middle East.

In a beautiful essay about her former professor, then-student and now a user experience designer at SPARK Experience Design in Rockville, Md., Kathleen Kenney (’08) wrote:

The bond this professor makes with everyone in his life, including his students, is also obvious when you walk into his office. Its four sides are wallpapered with flags from more than 30 countries. “These here are the flags students gave me as gifts,” says Saadatmand. “When I retired I had them from over 105 countries.”

When told his office is exciting he replies, “Well, I am not a boring person.” Indeed, he is not boring, and has overcome much adversity. Saadatmand immigrated to America as a teenager in 1960, to receive an American education. He started schooling to become an engineer and nearly finished. He then realized his true passion lay with psychology, counseling and helping others and changed his course of education accordingly.

While in America, his home country was in turmoil.

As a result he suffered great personal loss. Yet Uncle Bijan is a positive, happy force. He chose the better fire, the one that is restorative and healing. The fire of enlightenment.

While we will all revisit the day of tragedy that opened the millennium, today would also be a good day for a small pilgrimage to the patio on the lower side of Leeolou Alumni Center. Here, engraved on a granite marker, are the names Bruce Simmons (’83), Craig M. Blass (’96), Matthew Horning (’97), and Brian Thompson, the father of Daniel Thompson (’03), who died in the attack on the World Trade Center. And in their memory and honor, make a pledge to choose the better fire — the fire and passion to learn and grow and live with the gracious, happy and magnanimous spirit embodied by Uncle Bijan.

Author Marianne Williams wrote: In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it. How better to embrace the power that heals, the fire that binds humanity together.

And what better time to do it than today.

While some will rejoice today, others will cry for what might have been. The rest of us who stood by and watched and cried, our charge is to do as then-SGA President David Mills (’02) suggested following the 911 Tragedy: “Have faith that your friends, your families, your education and the glow from each of your individual hearts have prepared you well to burn brightly against the darkness of this world.”

You can read more about Dr. Sadaatmand in the newest issue of Madison magazine. He is featured in Professors You Love.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

3 Responses to The right fire for the darkness

  1. Jan Gillis says:

    Thanks for saying the right thing at this tumultuous time.


  2. Lynda Ramsey says:

    I, too, have mixed feelings. As I read through the many posts throughout the day, I ended up with this quote that summed it up for me.

    “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
    — Martin Luther King, Jr


  3. Tom DuVal says:

    I had very mixed feelings when I heard the news this morning. I know many are concerned about reprisals for the killing of bin Laden. I am also concerned about reprisals for the celebration of the killing. Not to mention the karma…

    You chose well in focusing on Bijan at this time. He is certainly a good model for how we can be world citizens.


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