Monday, August 15, 2011

911, Ten Years After

This year will be the tenth anniversary of the heinous attacks of September 11, 2001 that brought down the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon and took the lives of thousands of innocent people.In the after math of this terrible tragedy, we the people of the United States came face to face with our vulnerability and joined the ranks of nations for whom terrorism is a reality of daily life. At the same time, the outpouring of sympathy and solidarity from places all over the world reminded us of the possibilities for bridge-building from the ashes of this terrible act reminding us that even from the ashes of destruction, new and even better life is possible. Many claimed then that the world had changed forever, and in many ways, both positive and negative, they have been proven right.
In addition to the horrendous loss of innocent life and the fear that became a part of our national consciousness in a way unprecedented since the darkest days of the Second World War, 911 has left us with deep and lasting wounds, some of the worst of which may have been those inflicted not by the murderers, but by our own body politic in the aftermath of these terrible attacks. The hastily passed USA Patriot Act for instance, has undermined our constitutional liberties in ways that defy undoing by creating an extra-legal category of actions and individuals not protected by our civil and criminal or even military laws. The stain of torture in places like Abu Graib and Guantanamo have shamed us as a people who have prided themselves on their adherence to moral standards even in the face of enemies like the infamous storm troopers of Hitler's Third Reich, while the quagmires created by our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, have sapped our economy, our national will and our confidence in the bright shining beacon on the hill that most of us have understood our nation to be in the world. Acts of individual bigotry against Americans of the Islamic faith have sky-rocketed and despite the assurances of then President Bush that we were not at war with Islam, government sanctioned surveillance, warrantless wire tapping, deportations and even imprisonment of US citizens and resident aliens of the Muslim faith indicated otherwise as America seemed to be opting for security at the expense of liberty and a national hysteria not seen since the days of Senator Joe McCarthy.
The news, however, has not been all bad. For even as individuals and even government agencies seemed to be waging war not only on Islam but on our own constitution the spirit of the American people, our sense of fairness, our generosity and "the live and let live" ethos characteristic of this nation of immigrants has prevailed in many important ways, especially in the various faith communities of our nation. Even as the infamous pastor Terry Fox threatened to burn the Qu'ran, for example, in a naked appeal to bigotry and xenophobia, and the haters led by Pam Geller fought to stop the Park 51 Community Center and Mosque near ground zero, even as Representative Peter King, ignoring all evidence to the contrary, was holding hearings on the "radicalization of Islam" people of faith, clergy and laity were rallying to support our Muslim brothers and sisters with rallies, with interfaith educational efforts, with demonstrations and joint projects. Thanks to the public example and loud rebukes of some of his fellow representatives, Rep. King's hearings have faded into well-deserved obscurity. Here on Long Island, the courageous members of the Islamic Center of Long Island have been active and visible in interfaith outreach, aide projects for the community and the world, and in joint ventures with Temple Beth-El, the Long Island Council of Churches, the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives and, of course, the Interfaith Alliance of Long Island.
Ten years after the dark days of the 911 attacks, we have an opportunity to do it right this time- to work together as people of faith to build a better, more inclusive community together. Much has happened in ten years, some bad, much good. The "Arab Spring" across much of the Middle East has inspired many Americans to begin to see that the aspirations of the people there are much like our own and that the twisted religio-political version of Islam claimed by the terrorists is no more representative of this great faith than the so-called Christianity of Timothy McVeigh is representative of the Christian faith. As we commemorate this important anniversary then, let us do so not to revisit old wounds, but rather in the spirit of a renewed commitment to the aspirations of our faiths and of our founders as well, to make of this nation a blessed community, empowered by its wonderful diversity and dedicated to liberty, opportunity and justice for all.