It's been 10 years since the terrorists struck the Twin Towers in New York City, killing 2,973 people of all ages, sexes, colors, and many ethnicities and religions. And today there will be little else discussed. There will be myriad television programs reliving the horror both on news and entertainment channels. There will be articles in all the newspapers and across the internet. And there will be ceremonies, both large and small.
Even now, ten years later, the attack is still a national obsession -- one could say it has sort of morphed into a very macabre American holiday. Why is this? What makes this disaster so different from the many other disasters in our history?
Some might say it is because it took the lives of so many people. That doesn't really ring true. There have been American disasters that took more lives, and yet they weren't turned into some kind of sacred day of remembrance. The Galveston hurricane killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people. The San Francisco earthquake killed between 3,000 and 6,000 people. The infamous Trail of Tears killed at least 4,000 people. And the Johnstown Flood killed 2,209 people. And yet there is no special day on the calendar on which the nation remembers these events.
Others will say it is because it was a terrorist attack on the government and people of the United States. And I'll admit that the idea of being targeted by terrorists is frightening. But wasn't the attack on Oklahoma City just 16 years ago also a terrorist attack on the government and people of the United States? It is nearly as recent as the 9/11 attack, and yet I doubt that many Americans even remember what date on the calendar that it happened.
Could the reason the 9/11 tragedy has struck such a chord with Americans be because it feeds into the innate bigotry and hatred of far too many Americans? Oklahoma City was done by white, male, christian, Americans, and that strikes too close to home for many people. After all, most of the people in power in this country (at all levels) are white, male, christian, and born in this country. Examining the Oklahoma City terrorist attack too closely would require we look in the mirror and consider the problems this country has.
But 9/11 was different. It was done by foreign, brown-skinned, muslims. It is tailor-made for the inherent bigotry of this country. It is easy to hate foreigners. It is easy to hate people of color. It is easy to hate people who believe in a different religion. To hate the terrorists of 9/11 doesn't require we look in the mirror and examine our own faults, because it is easy to tell ourselves they are "different" from us.
The sad fact is that 9/11 made it easy for too many of us to wrap ourselves in the flag and boast of a false patriotism -- and then use that to spread hatred and bigotry against muslims, immigrants, and brown-skinned people (many of whom are our fellow citizens). It has given bigotry a reason to rear its ugly head again in America -- disguised as patriotism (and even echoed in the halls of government by dishonest politicians).
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying we shouldn't remember the 9/11 disaster. It was a tragedy, and we should remember the innocent people who lost their lives. But we should remember it the same way we remember other American tragedies, and not use it as an excuse to foster hatred or encourage bigotry.
The attack on Pearl Harbor was also a great tragedy, and we still remember it on a specific calendar date. But we don't use it to spread hatred of Japan, Japanese-Americans, or Shintoism. Why can't we take the bigotry out of 9/11 and remember it the same way?
I’m sorry for the people who died on 9/11.
I’m sorry we were told to shop after 9/11 and that many of us chose to consume beyond our means.
I’m sorry that some of the financial firms in Manhattan chose to cheat people and to rip people off.
I’m sorry we sometimes used 9/11 to scapegoat Muslims and torture people.
I’m sorry we used 9/11 to start wars based on lies, kill civilians, and then treat our veterans like crap.
We had choices to make about how we would honor the dead from 9/11 and honor our soldiers fighting abroad.
I’m sorry and ashamed that this is how our nation chose to act after we were attacked by the terrorists on 9/11/01.
The good news is that we always have the ability to learn from the past, and to make better choices for the future.
Last, from William Wordsworth's "Splendour in the Grass", via my mother:
That though the radiance which was once so bright
be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendour in the grass, or glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.