Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11: Six Years Later

Six years ago right now, I was sitting in my uptown office here in New York City when a colleague announced that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. Like everyone else I was shocked and saddened as the tragedy unfolded before us on the TV screen. Here we were, uptown, just a couple of miles away, unable to do anything about what was happening and wondering how we - as a religious institution - would be affected. Naturally we threw open the doors and had people available for prayer and consolation. We became an island of peace in a sea of panic. Then, by afternoon, we began the process of finding our way home, which for me meant walking back downtown to my home, which isn't too far removed from the bottom of Manhattan.

Not actually knowing anyone who was killed in the attacks, the events of 9/11 were more surreal than overtly painful. We naturally grieved for the families who lost husbands, wives, sons, and daughters. But for us, the daily reality was the smoke that drifted up from the smoldering pile of rubble. And there was that naked spot in the skyline that to this day offers a bleak reminder of the tragedy. We had a great view of the Towers from our roof garden and I would always glance downtown as I crossed 7th Avenue each day. Noting the degree to which clouds enshrouded the Towers, one could often gauge the day's weather. I still look downtown and remember.

Now, six years later, I'm not sure how I feel about the event itself. Although the American people rallied together in those first months after September 2001, as a historian I was immediately worried about the potentially negative consequences of the event, given the ideological profile of our president and the prevailing conservatism of so many people. In the end, 9/11 gave the Bush administration - and a Congress dominated by conservatives - license to abandon moderation, invade Afghanistan and, eventually, Iraq. It also produced a culture of hyper-patriotism in which opposition to Bush administration policies was perceived as disloyalty. At the same time, culturally ignorant Americans lumped all of Islam together in a wave of embarrassing anti-Muslim feeling that was no less racist and unwarranted as the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Rather than being guided by the "better angels" of our nature, this country revealed its ugly underbelly in a time of crisis.

Now, six years later, we're still paying a dear price for 9/11. Except now, the U.S. is no less guilty than the terrorists who piloted the planes into the towers. Thanks to President Bush and those who supported his actions, this country has joined the ranks of the fanatics. And although religion isn't explicitly cited as a force guiding White House policies in the Middle East, it is implicitly there, a hyper-Christianity guiding Bush's actions in a way that reminds one of the medieval Crusades that tried to drive Muslims out of Jerusalem.

If there is another tragedy like that visited upon us on 9/11 - and I believe there will be one - we as a nation can place the blame on the Bush administration, whether it happens this year, next year, or 10 years from now. And the heartbroken families of that future tragedy should lay the bodybags of their bloodied loved ones at Bush's doorstep. Rather than learning from history's valuable lessons under these circumstances, Bush and his cronies have ignored history, and indeed reality, in their post-9/11 conduct. As a result, many thousands of people have needlessly died . . . and the blood is on Bush's hands.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

Very, very well said, Brian.
I can't imagine what that day must have been like for you... Surrealis all that comes to mind when I try.