Omar Amanat was supposed to give a speech at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Instead, he was doing a radio interview that ran late and in return saved his life. Gayle talks to Omar about surviving 9/11, his life as a Muslim-American and his efforts as a philanthropist to help the world understand and end terrorism.
Omar, who is a Muslim of Indian descent, says his life changed dramatically after September 11. Although he escaped death, the data center for his software and brokerage firm did not—it was destroyed when the twin towers collapsed, leaving 500 of his employees out of work. Omar says he turned to colleagues and investors to help him rebuild, but instead of finding help with financing, Omar says he was faced with racism for being a Muslim. "I realized there was something greater that is going on here and unless I do something about it, what chance do my kids have?" Omar says. "What chance do we have in this world with what I thought was going to be a major clash of civilizations?"
Omar says he decided to get to the root cause of the terrorist attacks. Through much research, including a self-funded Harvard study, Omar says he has found some answers in what is called "the plausibility theory". The theory is that the penetration of the television set into the Middle East in the 1990s brought images and messages that lowered the self-esteem of many Muslims and encouraged some to take part in terrorist acts. Omar says he is trying to reverse this phenomenon by partnering with the United Nations' Alliance of Civilizations organization. Through the organization Omar says he has created a media foundation to design programming that will counteract the negativity and violence many in the Middle East see on television.
"This work is important to me because I have stumbled upon on what I think is the answer to how we can heal conflict instead of inflaming it," he says. The media foundation will create positive and appealing programming that Omar says will carry a message of understanding and build self-esteem. "[The foundation] is essentially designed to tell stories that will alter the way people will feel about the 'other,'" Omar says. "It's basically stories that will enhance the way we feel about other people, civilizations, other cultures."