I, like most people, remember exactly where I was on 9/11/01. I was preparing for my first class of the day, Western Civilization 112. I was sitting in my office at Clark State College in Springfield, Ohio and one of the professors came down the hall, stuck his head in my office and asked me didn’t I have a son in NYC? I told him I did, Christopher lived on Convent Avenue at the time and worked for Scholastic Publishing. There is something going on there, he told me, something about a plane crash hitting a building.
I tried to pull up some info on my computer, but we did not have the same kind of technology then that we have now, so I was not able to find out anything. Just as I was about to call Christopher to check on him to see if this accident had happened near him, another person came running down the hall and said another plane just hit the World Trade Centers. Obviously this meant it was not an accident, but an attack.
I immediately dialed Christopher and got him on the first try. He assured me that so far he was fine, but could see smoke, hear sirens and was aware of what was going on. He said he was amazed at the sight of the first tower on fire. We talked for several minutes, thank goodness I had called early enough that the lines were not overwhelmed and then he promised to keep in touch and hung up to go watch television to see what was happening.
I walked over to the library to watch on television the horrible events that were unfolding in NYC. Classes were canceled and I went home to watch and to talk to Chris throughout the day. When it became apparent that the attacks were over, the Pentagon crash, the plane going down in Pennsylvania due to the courage of the passengers, I began to wonder about why this had happened?
What would make a group of people want to cause such widespread destruction and panic. By that time the news was reporting that it was the work of “Islamic terrorists.” I think that was the first time I had ever heard that term. Later that day I heard the term Al Queda for the first time I think. So, it was mid-eastern Muslims who did not like us. Why?
I began to do some research and found out a lot I did not know about our relationship with certain folks in the mideast. What I learned made me sad. Religious bigotry I was familiar with. Lots of white religious folks had based their justification for slavery on the story of Ham in the Bible. The KKK used “Christian” as one of their mantras while they preached hatred against blacks, Jews, Catholics and a vast array of other people.But, hatred by Muslims was new to me. The few Muslims I knew seemed just like anyone else to me. There were black Muslims who sold bean pies and newspapers in big cities and other Muslims who were generally simply olive skinned people, frequently from another part of the world. I would not have known most of them were Muslims unless they told me. Wearing of the hijab was rare in my neck of the woods and as far as I knew there were no mosques in the area, although there must have been, in hindsight.
Muslims were not deemed that much more different in the pre-9/11 America I was familiar with than Quakers or the Amish, they were just people with a different religion than most of us.
After the disaster, after the planes stopped crashing and the country stopped reeling from the worse terrorist attack from outside our borders I was amazed to hear people begin to hate Muslims. Not just the men on the planes, who we presumed were Muslims, but all Muslims. At least one of my teaching colleagues at Clark State was Muslim, professors my husband knew from CSU were Muslim. How could people blame them for this?
One of the things I heard white people say that stunned me was “How can they hate us and want to hurt us without even knowing us, we have not done anything to them.” I realized then what a privilege it must be growing up assuming everyone was going to like you unless you did something to make them dislike you. My first reaction was not kind, it was “Welcome to my world!”
As the months wore on and we declared war on Iraq–talk about a stretch, the rhetoric grew stronger, and more hateful. It reminded me of the dark days of the Vietnam War where some people wore tee shirts that said ” Kill them all and let God sort them out.” One spot of levity offered some relief, my friend Ellen and her family who had been doing charity work in Africa returned after 9/11 and seeing so many American flags on cars wondered why there were so many diplomats at LAX when they landed!
9/11 was what happens when hate, intolerance and bigotry are allowed to flourish and act. Instead of making certain that message was shared with every man, woman and child in America we chose to hate them more than they hate us. As Ghandi said,”An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Even in the memorials that are being shared all day today there is, from time to time, a glimpse at something evil besides the men who took so many lives for so little reason.
If Americans continue down the current path of divisiveness, intolerance and bias that we currently are the terrorists will have won. That is not the way America was envisioned, not even the men who were our Founding Fathers, slave holders though they were, denied the equality of human beings. They did not walk the walk, true, but they did at least talk the talk. Banning marriage between two people who love each other because they are both the same sex, resegregating our schools, killing people because they are a different color, go to a different church, speak a different language, act differently, dress differently, think differently are act of terrorism just as sure as what happened on 9/11.
We cannot change what happened on 9/11. We can remember and honor those who lost their lives or who lost loved ones. We can, however, work to create a world where no one looks at another human being and decides because they are different they have to die.