Monday, September 12, 2011

Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of September 11th

Fence at Flight 93 crash site in
Shanksville, PA, 2008
Ten years ago, hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another hijacked plane crashed in Shanksville, PA en route to its target. The September 11th tragedy was a turning point for the U.S., bringing new awareness but also new sorrows.

September 11th, 2001 lingers in my memory as a day of heartache. Glued to my television set, watching the nightmare unfold, I felt sorrow well up in me. Islamic extremists had reminded America just how dangerous radical religion could be. The hijackers had destroyed the Twin Towers and wounded the Pentagon, killing countless innocent people. Another plane lied in ruins in Shanksville, PA.  I wanted those responsible brought to justice, and I wanted healing for those who lost loves ones.

I grieved not only for the lives lost, but for the horrors that were bound to follow. I worried that my countrymen would lump law-abiding Muslims together with Islamic extremists, and that persecution of Muslims would soon follow. I also feared that my country might go beyond necessary justice in its pursuit of those responsible. With a heavy heart, I feared that the U.S. would retaliate on a grand scale in some way, and if war followed, many innocent people would perish in the fighting.

The years after the attack would bring with them enormous human suffering. The tragedy of September 11th was followed by an era of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weakened civil liberties, and human rights violations in the name of "security." Ten years after the tragedy, some right-wing observers seem incapable of distinguishing Islamic extremism from Islam as a whole, spreading fear in their wake. The world looks darker to me now than it did on September 10th, 2001.

I also chafe at the way some Religious Right figures have framed September 11th. Some frame the tragedy as a Christian event (forgetting that the attack impacted people of many religions), while others attribute the attack to God withholding his protection.

- In an interview with CitizenLink, Focus on the Family's Timothy Goeglein described his experience of September 11th. He claimed that freedom is bestowed by God, not government, and that God's grace has prevented another such attack on U.S. soil. Goeglein stressed the importance of not secularizing September 11th, urging readers to see the date as "faith-laced" and "faith-undergirded." (See www[dot]citizenlink[dot]com/2011/09/09/friday-5-timothy-goeglein-recalls-911/)

- In a video posted at OneNewsNow, Michael Youssef discussed his visit to Ground Zero. Youssef made claims similar to those in The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks, insisting that the Cordoba House Islamic center in New York City was allegedly "the sign of Islamic triumphalism." He alleged that "they" (whoever "they" are) supposedly want to remove crosses from public spaces and churches, a theme he discusses in his book When the Crosses Are Gone. (See www[dot]onenewsnow[dot]com/Culture/Default.aspx?id=1429084)

- On the August 12th edition of The Jim Bakker Show, Jim Bakker claimed to have had a vision of the September 11th attack in 1999. At the 2:20 mark of this video, Bakker said, "I believe with all my heart 9/11 was somewhat of a judgment, only because God could have stopped it. I'm not saying God sent it. I don't know, but he does send judgment. But God had to let his hand down of protection for those planes to come in and hit those buildings. I believe it was a warning." (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch)

Still, the past ten years have brought glimmers of hope as well. On September 11th, people came together and united in the face of horror. Looking back, I take comfort in the resilience of my people, knowing that there will always be those who face chaos with courage. I know that in times of horror, there will always be people who set aside their differences and help others. Among my fellow Americans, there are many voices for human rights, and many people who have condemned extremism without succumbing to blind wrath and jingoism. Many look back on September 11th with a spirit of humility. As a nation, we are more mindful of religious extremism now -- and awareness of a threat is the first step in preventing it.

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Fence at Flight 93 crash site, Shanksville, PA, 2008

Two spaces come to mind when I reflect on September 11th. Back in 2008, I visited the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, PA. A green field stretched out where Flight 93 fell years before, its freshness hiding the land's harrowing past. A deep stillness hung over the site, and it was impossible not to feel humbled when walking those lands.

The official memorial had not yet been constructed, but a makeshift memorial had been erected near the field. A chain link fence stood before the field, decked with items left by visitors: firefighter jackets, hats, rosaries, shells, flags, and more. Private citizens had commissioned plaques dedicated to the Flight 93 passengers, several of which sat near the fence.

The spontaneous outpouring moved me. In this place of stillness and memory, people came to mourn, to reflect, and to give honor to the dead. It was a place of solidarity, and that gave me comfort.

Healing Field,
West Manheim Township, PA
A second space was to be found in a small town this weekend. On Sunday, I visited the Healing Field in West Manheim Township, PA, a memorial to those killed on September 11th. Hundreds of American flags stood in a field to signify those who had perished, each bearing a sign with the name and description of someone lost to the attack. Overhead, a huge American flag billowed in the breeze, suspended from two fire engine ladders. On a day of tragedy, here stood a place to breath, to honor the dead, and to remember. The atmosphere was one of reverence and peace, reminding me that Americans can bear witness to September 11th without succumbing to wrath.

Fascinating, how physical space and memory are so intertwined.

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On the tenth anniversary of September 11th, we can take stock of what has passed since 2001. We can guard against the threat of radicalism through knowledge, coordination, and justice. We must understand that war and blind wrath will not extinguish extremism, and may actually inflame it. We can go forward reflecting on ways to prevent religious extremism and create a more just and peaceful world.

The people who died in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 should not be forgotten. The courage of the first responders (all of the first responders) should never be forgotten. Nor should their sacrifices, as many died on September 11th and others live on with health problems from exposure to the Twin Towers dust. September 11th impacted all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or religion, and all Americans must remember and draw wisdom from that day.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Life as a Reader: Lessons from 9/11

Four Monkeys: Sacred September 11th

Groping the Elephant: The Real Tragedy of 9/11

Politics Plus: Regretting 9/11 Twice

Human Rights Watch: Ten Years After September 11

Physicians for Human Rights: PHR Remembers Victims of September 11 Attacks and Thanks All Who Fight for Human Rights

For a post-9/11 musical interlude, check out Seif al-Din by Epica.


  1. A beautiful tribute, Ahab. And very sad how such a tragedy is being exploited to further the fundamentalist and hateful agendas of those of the same ilk as those who caused it.

  2. Thanks for this Ahab, also for the links.

  3. Cognitive Dissenter -- Indeed. It seems as if some factions learned nothing from the tragedy.

    Donna -- Thank you.

  4. I can hardly bear to listen to or read any more evangelical drivel. They do not say anything new, after all, and what they say makes no more sense than it ever did. To paraphrase Bakker (paragon that he is), God didn't SEND the planes--or maybe he did, but--he chose not to protect the people in the towers--just burned them up and threw them down-- in order to warn the rest of us."

    The failures of logic that are required to produce gibberish like that are boring the way evil is so often boring and dreary and repetitive. We are to believe that Muslims are evil for attacking and God is wise in allowing it.

    I don't know how you bear to keep watch, Ahab. Like Atticus Finch, perhaps you are one of those people who are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. I honor you.

  5. Nance -- I get alarmed when I hear Religious Right people justify horrors as acts of God (or, acts that God chose not to prevent). How can any human with a shred of empathy believe that? What is to stop them from justifying other atrocities in the name of God?

    Bloggers who monitor the Religious Right keep watch because somebody has to. It's too dangerous to ignore. Thank you for your kind words.

  6. An excellent, sensitive post on a difficult subject. Bravo!


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