I came in to work early that Tuesday morning, and even jokingly said to my friends “hey, today is 911; I hope nothing bad happens!”
Yes, that actually happened.
Soon afterwards, another co-worker came in and said he’d heard on the radio that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers, and it didn’t look like an accident. We turned on a TV, and proceeded to watch in shock and horror as the second plane hit; soon after that we closed the office and went home, since we honestly didn’t know if it was world war 3 breaking out.
I went home and proceeded to watch hours of live news, and like so many I was filled with anger and thoughts of revenge. I remember then President George W. Bush giving the best speech he ever did, about how we’d find the people who hurt us and bring them to justice.
I saw the whole world gather in compassion and solidarity for one shining moment, and collectively mourn the loss of 3,000 lives.
And then, it all changed.
First, the story of what happened began to change: I heard the live reports saying they could still hear secondary explosions going off inside the towers before they collapsed, but soon that was buried. I heard them say the Air Force had shot down flight 93 over Pennsylvania, only to hear the story change to passengers fighting back took the plane down. I saw the United States having a mission and mandate to go into Afghanistan and get the people responsible mutate into an attack on Iraq and a war against Islam.
Initially, my response was to go very deep down the conspiracy theory hole; and see my own confidence in our country evaporate with the global good will we’d enjoyed. I saw us go from innocent victims to would be world conquerors.
Ten years later, I see things much differently.
I largely gave up the conspiracy theory approach. The full story of what happened that day was never revealed, and probably never will be; obsessing over it now was nothing more than a recipe for paranoia bordering on insanity.
The philosopher George Santayana defines fanaticism as "redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim", and I think that has happened to many of us. Did you notice how little impact the killing of Osama Bin Laden seemed to have on the American people, when that goal was what started the ‘war on terror’ in the first place?
And more than that, how can you have a war on terror in the first place? Terrorism is an idea, and you can’t kill an idea. Post 9/11 we went from Al-Qaeda as our enemies, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, to ‘terror’ with a heavy implication that the religion of Islam is the enemy of the United States.
How is that even possible? How can a belief system be the enemy of a sovereign nation?
I was recently listening to a Christian radio station, and they were promoting a conference called ‘confronting the Muslim menace’, and I found myself yelling at the radio what a bad idea that was. I must have missed in the Bible where Jesus was preaching the ‘confronting the Gentile menace’ sermon!
The reason why that is, is the same as the number one lesson I took from September 11, 2001: we can’t counter hate with hate, or ignorance with ignorance.
Let me be clear, I recognize there are times that an armed response is appropriate, and I truly give thanks to all the men and women who risk their lives to defend us. But more importantly than that, I wish they didn’t have to risk their lives for this conflict.
Through a combination of corporate greed and political rhetoric, this ‘war on terror’ has the makings of a conflict that never ends. Remember, killing Bin Laden had NO EFFECT on it; and every time this conflict kills an innocent victim, or causes people to suffer, all we are doing is planting the seeds for the next generation of people who hate us and want to hurt us.
So here is what I suggest: forgiveness. Give up whatever anger you still feel in your heart for what happened that Tuesday morning, 10 years ago. Especially if you consider yourself to be a Christian person; forgiveness is the foundation of the faith. And if people who claim to believe there is a higher order to the world, and worship the same God can’t find a way to get along (and Allah is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob), then what hope is there for everyone else?
Christians and Muslims are not enemies. Americans and Arabs are not enemies.
There are unquestionably people in this world who don't want peace, but if we are consistently operating out of a place of love, then their message of hate will fall on deaf ears, and the seed of terrorism will not find a place to grow.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those we lost on September 11, 2001 and every day since. But let us honor their sacrifice by arming ourselves with knowledge and understanding, so that something like this can never happen again.