I had lunch with a friend yesterday. He’s one of the few people around here who I can talk to about politics and so on. He shared with me that he went to a 9/11 memorial in Havasu over the weekend because his daughter was playing in the school band. He also shared his horror over the anti-Muslim messages that were shouted – and that people were applauding and nodding. We spoke a bit about how Americans seem to need a boogeyman to fear and hate. In the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, it was the Soviets and the Cold War. B noted that our response to that threat was to mirror what the other side was doing – we had increases in technology, stockpiled weapons. Not so much with the racism, because hey, most Soviets are pale, but certainly there was demonization of and inaccuracies about a different political ideology. And then he said we’re doing the same thing with the religious extremists – because let’s face it, that’s what these people are, extremists, and not the poster children for most Muslims. So the American response is to be just as extreme, ugly and intolerant, to blame an entire group for the actions of a few, to become, in short, that which we profess to be wrong. Many Americans have learned nothing.
What I thought about on 9/11, and mostly kept to myself, is how it changed my world view and my view of the dangers of prejudice and hatred. I will never forget the day, and I could reminisce about the horrors, where I was, how reprehensible and heinous the acts of that day were. But I prefer to think that those people did not die in vain, that there were lessons to be taken from 9/11. I prefer that my patriotism be tempered with reality and honesty, that I see my country for all its wonders and blemishes. If I can’t do that, then I can’t effect change in this world. And I’m not very credible.
So I thought about how horrified and ashamed I am now that the first words out of my mouth the morning it happened were, “This has to be a Muslim attack.” It wasn’t a Muslim attack, it was an extremist attack, but I had to see and process the events of that day and perhaps more importantly, the social and political aftermath, to fully understand that extremists are never representative of a group. If I believed that, I’d have to believe that all Christians are paranoid whackjobs who resort to bizarre forms of suicide as acts of faith (see any number of incidents, but to name a few: the Branch Davidians, the Heaven’s Gate folks… and I’m not even getting into the wars between factions). I thought about, and appreciated, how far I’ve come from having that kind of reaction to a terrible event, whether it be national or local. I appreciated letting go of categorizing the world by stereotype and taking the time to actually review the actions of individuals, not entire groups.
I thought about how little I knew about foreign policy before 9/11 and how glad I am to have a more well-rounded educated view now. I don’t know everything, that’s certain, but I’d rather consider several angles on something and come to my own conclusions than let any particular news agency (or politician) dictate what I think. I also appreciate knowing that just as my own actions have consequences, so too do a nation’s. I’m in no way intimating that we deserved the attacks of 9/11, and certainly the people in those building and planes were innocents, but I think it’s important to note that actions that send the message that everyone needs to be like us, or that other countries and their people are someone worth less than we are, can hurt people who had little or nothing to do with decision-making or execution.
I could go on, but my 15 minutes are up and I think you can see my point. When we mirror the thing we are vilifying, we become the thing we despise. It’s hypocrisy at its worst and I don’t want to be a party to that. I like to think that the best way to honor the people who died because of the horrific events of 9/11 is to try to see my world more clearly, to understand the far-reaching consequences of wielding considerable clout in this world (for good and for bad) and to act accordingly on a daily basis, not just in terms of how I vote, but in terms of how I address my community and the people I come in contact with.