With this 10th anniversary of course we commemorate those who died in the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon; and we remember the heroes of flight 93 who knew their own death was inevitable, but fought back to save others. The religion of the the individual victims shouldn’t matter, but as people rail against Islam it deserves noting that over 60 Muslims were among the victims and heroes who were among the thousands killed by a few maniacs who twisted our religion to a profane act that none of Islam’s prophets — not Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or Muhammed — would recognize as defensible by any religious standard.
In January of 2002 I visited ground zero and saw the many flags, cards, posters, memorabilia and declarations posted there. Many were very heartfelt and personal. Many more swore vengeance and retaliation.
On March 11, 2004 I was in Europe when a similar attack was made on the Atocha train station in Madrid, and as Madrid was on my itinerary just a few weeks later I visited the shrine there with more personal recollections and items, and political assertions — not of vengeance or conquest, but that such acts should never sabotage peace and harmony among peoples. There were Hebrew and Arabic inscriptions in which I could make out little, but did see Shalom and Salaam among the few words I could decipher.
In 10 years in America have seen us become more fearful and paranoid. We have destroyed our economy with pointless wars, one based on lies, another, ostensibly to pursue Osama Ben Laden, continues after his death. The media hailed his killing as his great victory, never questioning the cost in trillions of dollars and many thousands of lives, and the destabilization of south-central Asia in the name of killing one man.
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee citizens have effectively blocked the building of a Mosque, not by legal injunctions which they tried but couldn’t get, but by intimidating local builders and contractors. A CNN special on the subject (one of several documentaries I’ve seen) showed over and over again people saying about Muslims, “I don’t know, but I heard… and I’m scared.”
Ignorance, rumors, and fear have taken hold and are accepted as legitimate motivators. Violence at any cost is celebrated. Through the Patriot Act and other compromises in the name of “security” we have lost many of our civil liberties, guaranteed though they are in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Those 19 men made a perversion of Islam when they attacked America, and in retaliation we have given up the liberties we claim to be fighting for, the wealth that sustained our society, and we’ve traded in the courage to live among different peoples for heavliy armed belligerence abroad. In short our national response has made a perversion of America as surely as bin Laden’s stooges perverted Islam.
As our national standing, our economy, and our freedoms have waned over these last 10 years I wonder, how much worse can it get. Are we at a nadir yet? Can we recover what we’ve lost? The only certainty is that we have changed too much to be again what we were, but can we learn from the lessons and bounce back, to rebuild trust, courage, and freedom?
At the threshold of the Uranus-Pluto square we are about to enter a time of huge changes. The precedents from the last similar square in 1933 include FDR’s New Deal and the ascension of Adolf Hitler. While I don’t anticipate the mechanized death camps of the Reich’s final years we could as easily slip into fascism as we could reclaim our communities and nation as a beacon of freedom for all people.
As bleak as things are there is always hope and possibility. On this anniversary let us dedicate ourselves to fight not just the terrorism of hateful extremists who have distorted the Qur’an to attack us, but those who distort the Bible and the Constitution to subvert our best American values from within, whether from thoughtless fear as in Murfreesboro or for calculated greed as in corporate boardrooms. More than ever let us reject terror from all sides and affirm the greater courage to live in peace, and the freedoms that — yes, complicate prosecuting the guilty — but are necessary to protect the innocent. As the great poet Langston Hughes wrote: “Let America be America.”