September 11, 2001
What Was Lost
The horrifying attack on America on September 11 has left all of us dazed, angry, and in terrible shock. In the wake of the loss of so many innocent lives and the unspeakable destruction, Americans have lost their sense of security, which has been a bedrock of the strength of this country.
Through the catastrophe we have also seen the best of Americans – the courageous firefighters, police, and rescue workers who gave their lives to save so many others. The World Trade Centers hosted some 50,000 workers, but, thankfully, over 94% of them were spared, thanks in large part to the sacrifice of those heroes. There have been many other heroes throughout this ordeal – people who stood in mile-long lines to donate blood, children who organized fund-raising campaigns, entertainers, businesses, and others who have donated money and materials to help in the recovery efforts and bring aid to the victims and the families of those who were lost. Each of us has been touched by this tragedy, and each of us has tried in our own way, however large or small, to be a part of the recovery and relief efforts.
Perhaps no other community has been more affected than Arab and Muslim Americans. Many Arabs and Muslims were killed in the attack. As families, the community mourns the loss of their loved ones. As Americans, they feel the grief and rage over the brutality and senselessness of the attack. But as Arabs and Muslims, they also face the terrible blanket violent backlash that has erupted against them, and, indeed, many other ethnic groups. They also grieve for the disservice to Islam perpetrated by the attackers. In two hours, the terrorists managed to destroy the foundations of understanding and tolerance that our community has worked so hard to build for decades.
There is no justification for this attack. It was a purely evil act directed not only against America, but also against Islam. The very name of the religion is rooted in the Arabic word for “peace”, and that is the goals of its adherents – inner and outer peace. There is no room in the religion for despicable, cowardly acts against innocents.
It is crucial that cooler heads prevail and that Americans understand that the perpetrators of this crime are not Muslims, but twisted people, who have lost all sense of perspective and are bent on their own aggrandizement.
There has been much focus on the Arab and Muslim worlds since the attacks, and it has mostly shown them in the worst possible light -- poverty, suppression, lack of development, political unrest and war. But it must be remembered that these are problems that plague many parts of the world, from Latin America, to Africa, to Asia, and even parts of the West. They are not limited to the Arab or Muslim worlds, nor are they problems that are endemic to Muslim civilization or Arab culture. Many portions of the Arab and Muslim worlds are highly developed, economically and politically stable, with educated populations.
We must not fall prey to the terrorists’ premise that our civilizations are diametrically opposed. Rather, we must focus on bringing about a world where terrorism does not have a place to breed. That does not mean indiscriminate bombing in any country that “sponsors terrorism.” It means seeking ways to bring justice, equality, and freedom to every human being on the planet.
Americans keep asking, “Why do they hate us?” But that question is misleading and dangerous. It presupposes a general “they” that seems to encompass the entire Arab and Muslim world. It does not distinguish between the terrorists and the vast majority of people who condemn violence and injustice. It also presupposes that Arabs and Muslims do not appreciate the great ideals and values that America stands for. But on the contrary, the Arab and Muslim worlds do appreciate those ideals. Indeed they long for justice, peace, security, freedom. But many have been denied these rights, and often as a direct result of American influence or intervention.
When we Americans ask, “Why do they hate us,” very few of us actually seem to be willing to hear the answer. Our eyes glaze over if the response is not couched in nationalistic or cultural terms. In our free and open and isolated society, we have become very lazy about following events that take place outside the confines of our own borders. We are notoriously ignorant about the rest of the world. Many cannot even place France on a map, much less Afghanistan. If we cannot even identify countries geographically, we obviously know nothing about their culture or politics. We have allowed the media and government leaders to usurp our information outlets to the point that we don’t even know what we don’t know. It is crucial that we become more involved in the workings of our own political process, so that we can monitor our government leaders and the media and ensure that they do represent our true desires.
One way to start is by re-examining American foreign policy. Deep resentment and anger are festering in many places around the world, and we must take on the responsibility of understanding why and doing what we can to alleviate this problem. Lest we be concerned that this would fulfill the terrorist’s mission of forcing us to change, we must realize that this would, in fact, neutralize them.
Americans are good-hearted, compassionate people, and many things that are done in our name would not be condoned by the man in the street. It is time for us to hold responsible our elected officials as well as those who are charged with providing our information. It is our moral imperative to ensure that justice and goodness prevail throughout the world. Indeed most people in the world are good and kind-hearted. Let America be the beacon, the guarantor, that we can all live in a world where goodness can be manifested instead of the tragedies that are bred by fear, deprivation, and despair.
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