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Nine Elven Oh-One

On 9/11, Americans remember the tragedy that redefined our understanding of modern conflict. We remember the people who died in the twin towers. We remember the passengers on the planes and the brave men and women who brought down one of them before it hit the Pentagon. We remember the firefighters and first responders and brave citizens of New York City who stepped into all that chaos and death to try to find anyone who had survived and help someone.

Anyone.

Those who were not close to ground zero wrestled with our shock, our grief, our disbelief and the rising swell of empathy and compassion that drove us to want to contribute, to donate, to even travel if necessary and be a part of the national effort to handle this unprecedented event.

As someone who spends much of his time saturated in politics and current events, 9/11 marks another turning point that would have almost as dark implications as the attack, itself. The attacks on the World Trade Center cast the first stone in what would become an onslaught of mistrust and hatred towards others, outsiders, it was the birth of modern American xenophobia. If you understand American society, it was neither unpredictable nor surprising that Americans would overgeneralize their anger and direct it not merely at the perpetrators of the attack but also fold in anyone that looked like them, lived like them, or worshipped like them.

We knew this was coming, we just wanted to believe it would pass.

We knew America had little self control when it needed someone to punch back. The news rolled in day after day and we watched as deep cuts were made to our individual rights and free society in the form of the so-called 'Patriot' act. We cringed as military action against Afghanistan was pivoted and turned towards Iraq for reasons that redefined the word 'threadbare'. We winced and shook our heads as Sikhs and other non-Muslims were attacked for looking the part or where peaceful Muslims were belittled and blamed for what radicalized men claiming to be of their religion did in their name.

I cried for the dead and grieving on 9/11 and I stood with our nation in its attempt to find both justice and purpose after the attack. But while my heart was hurt by the brutality of these men and their twisted vision of religious justice, the pain of that day was dragged out for years by our choices and our decisions in the name of patriotism; By the things we allowed ourselves to do and to become in the aftermath.

It's on 9/11 that my country started it's march towards nationalism; Where we started looking outwards with suspicion and anger at the rest of the world instead of seeing opportunity. Where our approach to others demanded proof of benign intent instead of proof of malice.

The benefit of the doubt was forever lost that day, another casualty of the burning towers.

Our president defined the world as either 'for us' or 'against us' and the presumption of your place in this new bright line reality was the latter unless you fully and completely endorsed the aggression we engaged in. France discovered just how quickly hundreds of years of alliance and support could become tenuous when they tried to grab our arm on the way out to punch the first kid that looked like our attacker.

And our rage knew no end.

Babies born during the first deployments after 9/11 are now eligible to enlist in the army and go fight the war that their fathers were in when they were born.

In these decades of 'response' to 9/11, Al Quida has grown and evolved into ISIS, the Middle East is ever more volatile and angry at us, and the fledgling xenophobia we saw emerge after these attacks has turned American on American in racial battles and plans for mass deportation for even the children of people who look like they might not fit in. To answer the growing frustration of Americans who don't like what we're becoming the local governments have been empowered to militarize their police and pass laws against protest.

It's very clear to me that 9/11 represents not just a memory of loss and reason for national unity, but as a challenge to what it means to be American.

The question posed is subtle but important.

Is our strength found in our unique commitment freedom and diversity or is our strength the ability to hurt anyone who doesn't live, or threatens to get into, our way?

I was taught the former, but since 9/11, I've watched my country slowly assert more and more the latter.

Remember the fallen today.

Remember the dead and those who answered our country's call, however they did.

But take a moment to remember who we are as a people and look around at what we're doing to people our government has called 'others'; to Muslims, to Mexicans, to African Americans, to citizens of other countries and other lands. Take a moment to remember what America used to be about and ask yourself.

Is this what it means to be the 'land of the free'?

Comments

  1. Having moved from NYC, Queens (the most ethnically diverse county in the world) to be exact, to Surprise, AZ, a city within Maricopa County leaves me finding this piece incredibly relevant. Hearing about Joe Arpaio from afar, was one thing. We did not put much thought in him having any relevance in our lives, nor anyone we knew. We believed what he was doing was wrong, we also believed he would be stopped; that no one could get away with what he was doing once the federal government was involved. Now, by appearance, white and without a foreign accent, one would assume I'm American born and bred; I'm not. I was born in England and emigrated to the US, legally (after 3 applications) with my family when I was six years old. My husband also by appearance, one would assume the same. He emigrated here with his family from Cuba as refugees when he was four. We look and sound pretty average, my husband is white of Latino ethnicity and looks like he could be almost anything, including, Greek; Israeli; Italian; Cuban... Our daughter, the only one born in the US, to an American born Cuban with green eyes and blinding hair (my sister in law) and a man from the Dominican Republic, looks "Latina" or what people preconceive anyway. As we are now in AZ, it is always assumed she is Mexican. Anyway, by Joe Arpaio's methods, the American born citizen, our daughter, could have been subject to his ridiculous policies and to learn some of our neighbors would have been completely okay with that disturbs me. You so succinctly described what is wrong with this whole picture. The irony that Trump (who I met twice) grew up one neighborhood away from me, among unparalleled diversity is not lost on me. Thank you.

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