As most (all?) of you know, today marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States by the Al Qaeda terrorist group. By now you’ve probably seen a few documentaries about the attacks, perhaps the ones done by National Geographic, or the ones done by CNN. You might have even watched a “replay” of CNN’s coverage of the attacks, preserved from that day. Perhaps you’ve even read Wikipedia’s article on the attacks or Wikipedia’s timeline of the events of that day. Many of you (and myself) remember where you were and what you were doing on that day. I was at one of my old schools in the 3rd grade, and I distinctly remember one of my friends at the time running up to me and telling me that New York had been bombed, a thought I met with disbelief since “bombed” brought images of B-17s into my mind. Our teacher later explained to us what had happened, and told us that if we wanted to have our parents pick us up so we could go home, we could. I opted to stay at school that day. But when I got home, it was all over the TV. I remember watching the TV late into the night with my family. We went to bed with an image of Ground Zero covered in debris, and lit up as bright as day with giant worklights.
Now, ten years later, the attacks once again fill our news feeds and television screens, as they have for the last ten years on this day. Today bears special significance, though, since it’s been ten years. We all stop and think about all those who were murdered that day. But, sometimes I wonder if those who did die would have liked the world we live in today. Indeed, today, it seems to me that the terrorists on 9/11 have been absolutely successful. They’ve managed to create an environment of fear in America. Every time we pass through airport security, we’re reminded of what happened ten years ago. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a constant reminder of what happened. And this environment of fear is in no way helped by the media. As they do with many other things, the media seems to enjoy hyping 9/11. Although I in no way object to paying respects to the victims, which I do myself, and remembering what happened that day (much as we remember what happened on December 7th, 1941), we really can’t afford to live in the environment of fear that 9/11 has created for us.
What environment of fear, you might ask. Well, let’s go back to December 7th, 1941. In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, we, for all intents and purposes, put Japanese-American citizens, pretty much all of whom were loyal Americans, in concentration camps. At the time we justified it, much as some of us justify attacks against Muslim Americans. Today we look back at the Japanese internment as one of the darkest chapters of World War II for America. 9/11, much like Pearl Harbor, also triggered a war response from America. In that respect, the terrorists have succeeded, too. They’ve successfully involved us in two wars. Although whether or not the wars were responsible for bankrupting our economy is up to debate, who knows where we’d be today if we hadn’t started those wars? Of course, in the end, we were successful in killing Osama Bin Laden, but only time will tell if the ends have justified the means.
And there is yet another respect in which the terrorist have been successful. Persecution of Muslims in America today has increased, and much like it was with the Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, almost all Muslim Americans are good people, working hard to achieve the American dream, and loyal to America. Yet some of us still find it fit to persecute them in various ways. Those people who persecute Muslims are no better than the terrorists who originally attacked us. CNN has shown horror of stories of Muslim community leaders receiving death threats daily from other Americans, and these anti-Muslim Americans have become terrorists themselves. And then there are things like the Patriot Act, where we’ve seen it fit to suspend basic American liberties in the name of catching terrorists.
But perhaps there is a silver lining to the attacks on 9/11. In the aftermath following 9/11, it seems to me today that, for the first time in a very long time, we truly were the United States of America. For an all-to-brief time, we stood together as a united people, regardless of political alignment, economic standing, race, or religion. I think that today we should not only remember the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but try to remember the unity we felt in the aftermath. Even though this unity was very brief, perhaps only lasting until the Patriot Act was proposed, it was unity. And if there’s one thing this country could use today, it’s to stand truly united once again, and this time for good. We need to move on from the attacks. Move on, but not forget. To truly defeat the terrorists, we have to change the world drastically. Make it a better world, perhaps even a more united world. But to do that, we must first change America, and be united once again.
In memory of all who died in and in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, all who have died fighting for America, and in honor of those who have fought, whether as a soldier in the deserts of Afghanistan or as a fireman who stood in the rubble of Ground Zero, and in honor of those who still fight today.