Monday, September 13, 2010

Home of the Free

Almost since the 9/11 terror attacks first happened, people have been saying “Never forget.” I’m not sure why, but that phrase always made me livid. Like I would ever forget. Like anyone could.

I remember the day of September 11, 2001 like it was yesterday. I remember the sunlight pouring through my bedroom before I went in to work. I remember the moment I heard that a plane had hit a tower and who told me. I remember watching in shock as the tower fell. In spite of the downed lines, I was able to reach every one of my friends in NY and they were all okay. Even the one who lived a few blocks from the World Trade Center. For months, I walked around in a state of fear and hysteria, and although I thought from the start that airline passengers were overreacting when they kept trying to keep Muslims off flights, I thought it was a natural, if disappointing reaction that would eventually pass.

Instead, anger toward Muslims seems to be increasing. Communities across the country are fighting the building of mosques. And some people feel that allowing a Muslim Community Center with a mosque inside to go up near ground zero will be like a victory dance for terrorists. As if Muslims were responsible for 9/11.

Lately, I’ve felt that the slogan “Never forget” has been, all along, a reminder to people to hold onto their fear and anger toward Muslims. Which is ironic, when you consider the magnanimity of so many on 9/11/01 and in the days after. Unlike in New Orleans during Katrina, where store owners shot at people, New York City shopkeepers opened their doors and gave away shoes to women walking home in heels. Donations from all over poured in to the Salvation Army. People gave blood in droves. Countries around the world grieved with us. And crowds of people lined up to cheer rescue workers as they went into ground zero to search for survivors. One woman had a sign that said, “You are our heros.” Even in my grief, I was awed by the beauty of humanity.

But one thing we all forgot was that pervasive feeling of unity, amity, and brotherhood. All we remember are the flames and the anger. Which I suppose is why people feel that Muslims shouldn’t worship near ground zero. And that the victims’ families should decide whether the community center should go up. As if the victims’ families are a like-minded group. As if they are equipped, in their awful grief, and awful power, to make a rational decision about religious freedom. And in the middle of all this, our politicians are trying to choose the side that will get them elected. This kind of public hysteria is probably what it was like during WWII, when Japanese Americans were incarcerated. We rational people look back on that and say it was wrong. But we can’t say it this time.

Muslims are not responsible for 9/11. Al Qaeda is responsible for 9/11. A community center near ground zero is fine, just as a mosque would be fine. We are America, home of the free, land of the brave. If we can’t stand strong against terrorism, and allow religious freedom to apply to everyone, then we are not free or brave. We are just another country instead of someplace special.