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Milos and Amira

Milos and Amira are refugees from the war in Bosnia. Milos is a Serb, a Christian, and his family suffered losses from acts of violence committed against them by Bosniaks, the major ethnic group in their city. After losing his uncle in the war he was able to escape with his family and come to America. Amira is a Bosniak, a Muslim, and her family suffered losses from acts of violence committed against them by Serbs. After losing her mother in the war she was able to escape with her family and come to America. Five years later they are living in Yonkers with their families, and they have just begun their freshman year at St. Catherine College when terrorists destroy the World Trade Center. Since the terrorists were presumptive Muslims there is a strong anti-Muslim feeling in their community, and after being attacked verbally while wearing her headscarf in public Amira stops wearing it at the college. When she appears without a headscarf in the religion class that they are both taking, she inadvertently reveals to Milos the most beautiful girl he has ever seen. When the professor, Sister Maura, invites students to talk about the attack, a few of them blame Muslims, but Milos argues that the men who flew the planes into the towers were not motivated by their religion but only by hate, and that if there had been any love in their hearts they wouldn't have done it. That gets Amira's attention, and drawn together, they fall in love. When acts of violence between their cousins, who are consumed with ethnic hatred, escalate into a war between their families they try to make peace, believing that their love will prevail, but soon the war gets out of control.

 

EXCERPT:

Since the college had cancelled classes the day after the attack on the World Trade Center, today was only the second meeting of her religion class, so Sister Maura didn't yet expect to know all her students, but in taking attendance she didn't remember ever seeing the girl who responded as Amira Hasanic, though she had marked Amira present in the first class.

"Amira, were you here last Monday?" Sister Maura asked, beginning to wonder if she was slipping. She had just turned sixty-five.

"Yes, sister," the girl said softly with a foreign accent. She was a beautiful girl, with lush dark hair and soulful dark eyes. Presumably she was eighteen, but she looked about sixteen. Of course every year the students looked younger.

"Did I say your name correctly?" Sister Maura had pronounced it "Ameera."

"Yes, sister," the girl said with lowered eyes.

When she called the name of the next student, whose name was Eduardo Hernandez, Sister Maura noticed that a boy seated two desks away from Amira was gazing at her as if he not only hadn't seen her in the first class but also hadn't seen anyone like her in his whole life. From her years of experience with students Sister Maura recognized the look—it was love at first sight. And then she suddenly realized that the reason she didn't remember seeing Amira in the first class was that then the girl was wearing a headscarf.

She could understand why Amira no longer wore the scarf. In response to the attack on September 11 there was a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, even at the college, and the girl didn't want to draw attention to the fact that she was a Muslim. But removing the headscarf had drawn attention to the fact that she was a beautiful girl.

Continuing to take attendance, Sister Maura came to Milos Stojanovic. She recalled that in the first class he had asked her to pronounce his name "Meelos," so she said it that way now. "Milos?"

"I'm here, sister." This was the boy who had gazed at Amira as if he was in love with her. He had sweet blue eyes and curly fair hair. A silver cross on a silver chain around his neck hung visibly outside of his shirt. She had noticed the cross in the first class because although it wasn't unusual for a girl to wear a cross outside of her shirt, it was unusual for a boy. From an image in her memory she recognized it as some type of Orthodox cross.

"Did I say your name correctly?"

"Yes, sister," the boy said, still in a daze.

Sister Maura marked him present. It occurred to her that since the last names of the girl and the boy had the same ending they could be from the same country, or from a region with the same language. She guessed it was in former Yugoslavia.

As she called out the remaining names she noticed that Milos just couldn't take his eyes off Amira, who acted as if she was completely unaware of him.

"All right," Sister Maura said after finishing attendance. "We missed a class last Wednesday, so we're a little behind schedule. But I don't want to move ahead without talking about what happened last Tuesday."

Her students waited trustingly for her to continue.

"We know of two students who were lost in the towers, and we know of several who found their way to safety by the grace of God. If any of you lost family members or friends, my heart goes out to you, and my prayers are with you."

She didn't expect any of them to speak up, and no one did, though at least some of them must have heard their parents talking about people they knew who had perished in the towers.

"So let's talk about how we feel."

A boy raised his hand.

"Yes. You are?"

"Steve," he said. "I feel angry."

"I understand. How many of you feel angry?"

About half of the twenty students raised their hands. She noticed that neither Amira nor Milos was among them.

"It's okay to feel angry. But it's not okay to act on that feeling."

"I think we should kill the people who did it," Steve said.

"The people who did it died in the attack," Sister Maura pointed out.

"Then we should kill the people who planned it."

"Who are they?"

"Muslims."

"They may have been Muslims, but they didn't do it because of their religion."

"Then why did they do it?"

"Why do you think?"

After a silence a girl raised her hand.

"Yes. You are?"

"Tanya. I think they did it because they were angry at us."

"I think you're right," Sister Maura said. "And I think they acted on that feeling. They did what we should not do."

"Then what should we do?" Steve asked.

"We should understand what made them angry, and we should do something about that."

"Do you know what made them angry?" another girl asked.

"What makes you angry?"

The girl shrugged. "Being treated like shit."

"I understand. How many of you feel angry when you're treated like shit?"

All of the students raised their hands.

"So we understand what made them angry," Sister Maura said, "and we know what we should do about it."

"You mean," Steve said doubtfully, "we should stop treating them like shit?"

"Yeah, that would be a start."

"But it wouldn't be enough," Milos said, coming out of nowhere. "It's not enough to stop treating people badly. We should love them."

"Love Muslims?" Steve said, making a face.

"They're children of God."

"They are," Sister Maura agreed. "Whatever our religion, we're children of God."

"The men who flew those planes into the towers," Milos said, "were filled with hate, so there was no room in their hearts for love. If they'd had any love in their hearts, they never would have done it. So it wasn't their religion that made them attack us, it was their hate."

She waited for other students to respond to this statement, but they sat there in silence, some of them looking as if they vaguely understood what Milos had said and others looking as if they wondered where he had come from. She noticed that Amira was gazing at Milos as if she perfectly understood what he had said.