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Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist for the New York Times, writes of the "healers of 9/11" and how Susan Retik, a Jewish woman "has pursued perhaps the most unexpected and inspiring American response to the 9/11 attacks." Ms. Retik, a Jewish woman, who lost her husband in the attacks, noted how Afghanis would turn into widows as a result of the American war in Afghanistan and she started Beyond the 11th, an education and poverty-alleviation project. And, she ended up partnering up with another woman, Patti Quigley, who lost her husband in the attacks too.
For the past years, there have many individual stories like this that remind one how many Americans listen to their heart and soul and now deep down inside how to make a difference. Unfortunately, the shock and awe of the September 11th attacks, nine years later, still holds this nation captive. Many of the nation's leaders still hold the power to invoke 9/11 and elicit a reaction of complacence or complicity. And, in fact, 9/11 is one reason why there is a dark continuity between the Obama Administration and the eight years of the Bush Administration.
As Americans see pastors intent on making statements on the so-called dangers of Islam, as we see our nation's own religious clerics seek to hold an entire religion responsible for the death of thousands of Americans nine years ago, let us not forget that Obama continued the "us vs. them" thinking by saying in his Inaugural Address, "the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met."
As Americans see Republican leaders endorse and participate in protests against planned constructions of centers for religious worship, as Americans see Democrats allow a vacuum to persist which allows for hate and bigotry to spread like a virus, let us remember that President Obama also said in his Inaugural Address, "That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."
Those quotes should not dissuade people like Ms. Retik or Ms. Quigley from taking individual action but rather should call into question the very idea that, nine years later, America remains under threat from any kind of far-reaching network at all.
There is a power in the unity that we all shared when we all grieved and were hurt by September 11th. But, the problem is that unity inevitably has grown into a unity of fear when what Americans really need is a unity of reconciliation. There is a need for Americans to find the courage to not forget but forgive. And, unfortunately, there is still an amount of reflection needed because this nation is still somewhere between anger and depression when it comes to handling the grief experienced.
It is important to remember how Americans responded with disbelief, horror, and fear and then were propagandized into supporting a war in Iraq along with a war in Afghanistan, how Americans encouraged friends and family to enlist in the military and defend our country from any future 9/11s, how Bush didn't ask Americans to make sacrifices but told Americans to instead go shopping., and how this event has allowed for the rolling back of civil liberties to go on.
This nation's understanding of terrorism continues to stop and begin at 9/11, a convenient reality that government leaders have used to prosecute wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expand the power of the Executive Branch, and bolster American superpower.
The trampling of civil liberties has been permitted by America largely because many have bought into the idea that there are networks of fanatical enemies out there tirelessly plotting the death and destruction of America, who hate America for its freedom. Americans have allowed terrorism to be personified and now increasingly associate terrorism with Muslims even though all humans could potentially pose a terrorist threat to mankind. The arousal of primal fear from conjured perception and the fact that those who have been imprisoned, abused, tortured, and denied rights don't look like "real Americans" has pushed America closer and closer to the world one reads about on the pages of George Orwell's 1984.
As the ACLU has valiantly worked to demonstrate to Americans, 9/11 has produced the context that America lives in a "new normal." Not only does that mean when we need to go somewhere in an airplane we have to go hours early to take off our belts, shoes, empty our pockets, and dispose of our water bottles and soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays and any other substance that might be a liquid or powder before boarding, but it also means that a world climate exists where individuals are shielded from accountability for engaging in warrantless wiretapping, torture, or rendition; state secrets are invoked to prevent transparency; detainees are denied habeas corpus; prisons like Guantanamo and Bagram (along with black prison sites that likely still exist) continue to hold detainees perhaps indefinitely; the right to target and kill U.S. civilians and bypass due process is asserted; and military commissions or "kangaroo courts" force detainees into Kafkaesque proceedings that make it nearly impossible to not be found guilty.
Nine years later, does it not sound ridiculous that a whole country was under the spell of the mantra "we're fighting the terrorists there so we don't have to fight them here"? Does it not seem insane that since 9/11 America has only given the "terrorists" what they wanted--a battle against them on their terrain, a global, amorphous and cosmic war, which this nation continues to perpetrate and kill thousands and thousands of people each year?
This anniversary, as Americans face the confluence of a planned Koran burning (since called off but now possibly on hold), violent demonstrations of groups in the Muslim World inflamed by a fundamentalist pastor's plan to burn Korans, the continued outrage among some Americans toward Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's plan to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero, and Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, why not consider the following:
Why not note how many are discussing what it means to be "sensitive" to the Muslim World and whether Americans should be sensitive or not and admit that if America is going to have this kind of discussion as a result of planned Koran burnings and proposed "mosque" projects then Americans should also discuss whether torture, rendition, indefinite detention, wars, and occupations in the Middle East are "sensitive" and whether they pose national security risks to Americans?
Why not note the fierce urgency of now that calls upon us to reject the narrative of a "clash of civilizations"? Why not reject both fundamentalist religious forces, Christian and Islamic, which promote implicitly and explicitly a toxic climate through harsh rhetoric and support for violence?