If the media coverage is any indication, you would think that President Obama's biggest concern this 9/11 is where he will be photographed, not what he, and the rest of us, must do to keep our nation from descending back into the darkness, fear, and hatred that consumed us in its immediate aftermath of that event. Based on the last several weeks, I'd say the president and the rest of us, have our work cut out for us but I believe enough in the greatness of this country that I don't think it's a lost cause.
It seemed as though our nation was finally beginning to heal from 9/11. After the immediate, intense pain that followed, the feelings of endless sadness and sorrow, and of not daring to openly celebrate any of life's milestones on that day (birthdays and anniversaries) in the first few years after, it seemed that our nation, was finally beginning to find some peace. Not beginning to forget, but beginning to move on.
But in recent months it's as though we've begun to journey backwards, not forward, and the wound now seems more open and painful than ever. The recent stories are almost too disturbing, and frankly embarrassing for our country, to recount, but I will anyway.
• On July 25th, a Gainseville, Florida "pastor" announced that he will host "International Burn a Koran Day" at his church to commemorate 9/11 this year, an act that General David Petraeus has said will make U.S. troops in Afghanistan less safe.
• An August 16th poll revealed that nearly a third of Americans believe Muslims should be barred from running for president or sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.
• On August 24th, a cab driver was asked if he was a Muslim by a passenger, who upon receiving confirmation that he was, proceeded to stab the driver repeatedly. The driver has since been unable to work due to his injuries and has received very few contributions to aid with his medical expenses and lost wages.
• On August 25th, a drunken man burst into a mosque located in Queens, NY and urinated on prayer rugs there.
• On August 28th, a mosque being built in Tennessee was a target of arson.
• To address concerns regarding rising hate speech and crimes directed at Muslims, days ago the campaign "My Faith, My Voice" created a public service announcement featuring American Muslims making the case that they are real Americans who we don't have to fear. You can watch it here. (Perhaps I'm getting softer as I get older but I find it hard to watch it without becoming emotional that our fellow citizens felt compelled, by fear for their lives, to do this.)
I'm sure there are those who will argue that it is not that Americans are bigots or unwilling to move on, but that some of our countrymen are simply reacting to the insensitivity being displayed by those who don't understand what we lost on that day. To put it bluntly, they would argue that our collective wound was beginning to heal, until an unacceptable amount of salt was poured on it. First, when a guy named Hussein took over the White House, and second when he and his "elitist," non-patriotic buddies (including apparently GOP Senator Orrin Hatch) defended the right of a bunch of Osama look-alikes to build a religious center too close for comfort to Ground Zero. Despite much of the opposition hailing from outside of New York City, they would also likely argue that those of who share a different perspective simply don't understand what "they" and our country lost that day.
They would be wrong.
Let me say from the get go that I didn't lose anyone personally on 9/11 and have no right to compare my experience at all to those who did.
But I know I lost something personal. To this day, I still remain uncomfortable discussing my 9/11 story -- every New Yorker (and D.C.-er for that matter) on the ground that day has one -- and I continue to change the subject when curious friends and family from other states ask about it, just as I'm about to do with you right now.
But aside from that day I know it changed my life long after, just as it did so many Americans. For months I was terrified of the subway, so much so that my entire life was rearranged around never setting foot below ground. And as hard as this is for those of you who are familiar with me and my work now to likely believe, I stopped watching television altogether and reading most newspapers and magazines because I knew that I was just one terrifying, painful image away from falling apart emotionally, throwing in the towel and making my family happy by abandoning the Big Apple altogether and moving home "somewhere safe." (I'm sure there's some mental health professional reading this who's thinking that I should have seen someone about this and I'm sure you're probably right but I didn't.)
While I didn't lose anyone I loved that day, as a recent college grad working in constituent services in a congressional office on the Upper East Side, my work and my life revolved around trying to help those who did. From spouses who lost loved ones and were trying to navigate the complex benefits process, to those who needed help arranging alternate travel for family members to grieve their loss after all flights were grounded. (For anyone who's looking for a way to help his or her college age kid grow-up overnight, putting him or her in a job in which he or she is surrounded by people in that kind of pain is a surefire way to do it.)
This is all to say that I am someone who has strong feelings about 9/11 to this day. I am angry that those people hijacked those planes, and also hijacked our peace of mind. I am angry that they hijacked my peace of mind. And I am angry that to this day even though I am a rational human being in most aspects of my life that I still have a mild phobia about subways that has occasionally reared its ugly head in the form of panic attacks years later.
I am angry. But I am not angry with Muslims.
I am no more angry with Islam for that horrible attack than I am at Christianity for slavery. Yes some people used the Christian religion as a justification for enslaving my ancestors. But those people were idiots. Not every Christian is. Furthermore, if I am to call myself a Christian I must forgive those who hurt us (I'll be honest, this is the tenet of my faith I struggle most with as anyone who's wronged me or anyone I love knows.) But if I am to call myself a Christian I also must not persecute those who have not hurt us. (I'm getting the impression that the Glenn Beck's of the world did not get to that part of the Bible.)
I want this on the record. I do not, I repeat, I do not believe that every person who opposes the Cordoba House Center being located near Ground Zero is an Anti-Muslim bigot. I think many of them are simply still hurting and, for them, that building represents what the subway still does for me; a reminder of the pain, terror, hurt and loss from that day that still lingers, even though everyone else says that we should move on.
But, if that's the case, and you're reading this, then prove the critics calling you a bigot wrong by doing these three things:
1) Make a donation to Ahmed Sharif, the cab driver attacked in what is being described as an anti-Muslim hate crime. You can do this through the New York Taxi Workers Alliance
Checks and money orders can be made payable to, "Ahmed Sharif"
c/o New York Taxi Workers Alliance
250 Fifth Avenue, Suite 310
NY, NY 10001
2) If you are a listener or fan of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh or anyone else who has been using heated rhetoric around this issue that can be perceived as Islamophobic, write to them and ask them to vehemently denounce the attack against Sharif and hate crimes against Muslims in general, as well as "International Burn a Koran Day." Contact: Glenn Beck: firstname.lastname@example.org, Rush Limbaugh: ElRushbo@eibnet.com
3) If you've ever sent an e-mail forward to your friends critical of Islam, which in any way may have been misconstrued as condoning hate crimes against those who practice this faith, then send an e-mail to those same friends today denouncing "International Burn a Koran Day" and hate crimes against Muslims, and encouraging them to donate to the Ahmed Sharif fund.
The reason? Because our country is better than the hatred and bigotry we are allowing to define us at the moment.
This piece originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Political Blogger.
Follow Keli Goff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/keligoff