People say that you will never forget what you were doing when you hear about a national tragedy. I was stuck in the hallway during class change and heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center from the lips of immature teenage boys. I didn't believe it. When I got to health class, it was on the TV. We went to lunch early and we're allowed to sit by the windows--- in case of the probable? attack on a rural school in Maryland or something. We went home early. I was 13.
Now, I feel rather removed from the events of 9/11. I didn't know anyone in the state of New York let alone Manhattan. I didn't know anyone in the Pentagon, I didn't know anyone in the plane that crashed in Shanksville, PA. I was never one for patriotism either, particularly after the election of George W. Bush. But, especially today as we approach the anniversary of 9/11 amidst the controversy over building an Islamic cultural center a few blocks away from where the towers stood, I sum up my feelings about 9/11 using the words of slam poets Issac Miller and Christian Drake in their poem "Nine Twelve."
"To be honest, I stopped mourning 9/11 years ago. But I will never forget the tragedy of 9/12, the day we could have become a nation of outstretched hands and were asked only to shut up and salute.The moment we could have proven to our enemies that we are not what they think we are. We were almost America."
We were almost America.
I live in a country today where a "church" in Florida is burning Qu'rans in commemoration of the ninth anniversary of 9/11. Where a New York taxi driver was stabbed for being Muslim. Where a mosque in Tennessee was set on fire. Where an Islamic cultural center is part of a national debate because it has been slated to be built a few blocks from where the two towers were. And I am really struggling to understand how this Islamophobia is acceptable, how it fits with the ideals spouted in our idealistic version of USAmerican history.* The Onion, news satire, poked fun at those who equate Islam with terrorism in a joke article that actually reflects a sad truth:
"I almost gave in and listened to that guy defend Islam with words I didn't want to hear," Gentries [the man who already knows all he needs to know about Muslims] said. "But then I remembered how much easier it is to live in a world of black-and-white in which I can assign the label of 'other' to someone and use him as a vessel for all my fears and insecurities."A sad but true commentary on what is an acceptable viewpoint among USAmericans today.
Tuesday, we had a chapel service at Drew dedicated to addressing "the mosque controversy." The Christian church bears responsibility in part for this Islamophobia, so the Drew community came together as a community asking for guidance. We sang songs of peace, looked to calls for justice, peace, and unity in the Qur'an, and saw clips from popular media interpreting this climate that we live in. We ended with a reflection from Dr. S. Wesley Ariarajah, our professor of world religions. I want to share two of his points in particular as we come up on this ninth anniversary.
First of all, we must stand up against those who use 9/11 as a tool to manipulate the public. Returning to the poem, if 9/11 could have become a tool of unity and a call for peace but instead became a rallying cry for ultranationalists, an excuse to hate Muslims and people in color in general.
Secondly, when a nation begins to identify minority communities as the enemy, as the problem, we are walking on the same slippery ground that let to the Holocaust. Ascribing collective guilt to a particular group of people is never an acceptable response to tragedy. Never. That is how genocide mentality functions! And we, particularly Christians, need to stand up voice this.
Rather, we need to welcome religious diversity, as a Christian community in Cordova has done. Let's, as Gainesville, Florida, mayor did, declare 9/11 Interfaith Solidarity Day. We need to live what God has commanded of us:
So as anti-Muslim sentiment climbs higher this week of 9/11, let us instead remember the tragedy of 9/12, that time when we could have used our pain for peace but instead shut up and saluted. Let us stand out firmly for God as witnesses to justice in our communities and this nation.
*Of course, it does fit with the reality of a USAmerican history of genocide, racism, and colonialism. But that is another post for another day.
**Qur’an 5:8. The Qur'an and Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad: Selections Annotated and Explained. Annotation by Sohaib N. Sultan. Translation by Yusuf Ali, revised by Sohaid N. Sultan. (Woodstock: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2007).