Image by wallyg via Flickr
I remember where I was on this day 9 years ago. I was working at a brand new job that year. I was down in the print room of my workplace and the business manager came downstairs and asked me if I’d heard the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At this point, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever thought what the World Trade Center was, but I knew they were tall buildings. I thought immediately that perhaps a small plane had gone off course and was going to land but had accidentally hit the building. Then I went upstairs to turn on the television that someone had dragged out of storage and set up in the kitchen.
When I saw the images on television I knew it was going to be bad. And then I saw the images of the planes flying into the two towers and I knew it was deliberate. Images of people flinging themselves out of the highest floors, clouds of smoke and debris taking over lower Manhattan, people were running and screaming, some covered in ash and god knows what chemicals… I remember asking my boss, who had joined me in the kitchen to watch, “How many people had to have been in there at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning?” He just shook his head. All day we kept the radio on, listening for news, and monitoring the internet. The news kept getting worse. There was a crash at the Pentagon. A plane went down in Pennsylvania. One learned to expect anything next. I watched President Bush on television being told on camera about it and I remember that he couldn’t have handled it better. He was calm and in charge.
Over the days and weeks following the event the anger began to set in. I was one who cheered when President Bush announced a retaliation against the cowards of Al Qaeda in their hideouts; Afghanistan and Iraq (and now Pakistan and Iran). I’d never been to New York but I suffered vicariously with its citizens that day, as did millions of other people. I tried to imagine what the spouses, mothers, children, and friends of those who had died were thinking and feeling, not only at that moment, but later when they had to relive the last moments of their loved ones’ lives over and over in their mind. Memory is a cruel master. I became angrier when Osama bin Laden gloated on video about crippling our nation by this act and angrier still each time a video came out of Al Qaeda beheading some poor victim of their fanaticism and filming their agony for all to see. I thought they were barbarians then and I think so now.
My anger really hasn’t diminished all that much since that day. Before September 11, 2001, I gave no thought to Al Qaeda, the Muslim religion, imams, or anything about that part of the world. Now I can say that after that date, I know more about them than I wish to and I still harbor no good feelings about them. I know no Muslims. I’ve read the Koran and remain unimpressed. While there are some good sentiments in there, like the Christian bible, women are deemed as possessions and men are encouraged to “discipline” them as needed. Infidels (unbelievers in the Muslim God) are to be tolerated if they wish to convert, but eliminated if they do not. Peace is assured to those who accept this God as their God. Like those who take the Christian scriptures literally, the lives of those who don’t agree with their God’s diktats mean little. I understand this is a matter of interpretation and I have no problem with Muslims, who like their Christian brothers and sisters, do not take their scriptures literally, fanatically, or unquestioningly. Critical thinking about supposed “inspired” scriptures is a must for reasoned dialogue. My anger has indeed made me rethink how I view the world and the world’s religions. It’s brought home to me how much more civilized some nation’s people are than others, how much more freedom we have here in America than anywhere else, and how much more freedom of religion.
The big difference I think is the way we use our religion to further our own political agendas. Surely, religionists have to ask themselves, “what is my religion for?” Is it to cleanse the world of everyone but your own kind? That’s fanaticism. Is it to assure yourselves that those who rule religion will rule earth? That’s fanaticism. You don’t have the right to make that decision for everyone else, especially if they disagree with you. Our response? We can ignore religion or not. Radicalism demands that we do not ignore it. Some choose to ignore it from a position of a-religion and ridicule, imagining wrongly, that this will suddenly hit home to such fanatics that they were wrong all along. The a-religionists imagine that eliminating religion will eliminate the hatred in people’s hearts. I don’t believe this for a minute. Religion is merely a tool of the human sins of pride, greed, and selfishness. Until we can all coexist peacefully, religion or not, we will have these kinds of acts.
Some choose to view religion from within a more progressive, open, and evolutionary stance which means that it’s open to new insight from the Divine in a spirit of cooperation and love. In this case, religion is transformative. Allowing your own heart to be changed is the key, not trying to force others to change theirs. Transformation begins at home, so to speak. I’m still trying to process my feelings stemming from that day. I can honestly say that I’m not Christian enough or rational enough to put my anger aside and see it clearly. I was not injured in that attack. My loved ones were not killed. If they had been, it would have taken a herculean effort on my part to learn to forgive. But I’m still learning and hoping I can change my heart enough to do so. But, it’s just too fresh of a national wound. Until I can, I will continue to think America’s the greatest country in the world with the greatest people in the world. Unimaginable acts of compassion have resulted from this event and it gives me hope. Call being in this country what you will, accident, fortune, whatever. For that I’m thankful.