By Gabriella Fleming-Shemer
With the monumental 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks fast approaching, I was anticipating how this commemoration may look different from those of years past. It’s only the second anniversary since the proposal of a mosque built near Ground Zero and, more importantly, it’s the first anniversary post Osama bin Laden’s death. The events planned for this coming Sunday include the opening of a National 9/11 Memorial in New York City and a Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. All around the world, schoolkids will make “peace cranes” and adults will say prayers to those lost. The memorial will feature the largest man-made waterfalls that will drop into two pools, serving as a reflection of where the towers once stood.
Since 2001, Americans have been receiving contradictory messages about how we should be feeling in the wake of the attacks. While former President George Bush emphasized action, revenge and polarization of good (us) versus evil (Muslim extremists), the media has adopted a pathos of peace and healing. But what really is this “healing” we’re all supposedly doing? I don’t believe there’s such a thing when it comes to a nation’s collective trauma. In the first years following the attacks, there was great fervor coming from the White House explaining to Americans that there is a bad guy and that only by getting rid of him and his terrorist group, this country can find peace again. And yet, revenge is cyclical, and doesn’t healing imply forward movement? If anything, these past few years have been marked by regression.
In the middle of the night when hoards of the most patriotic Americans took to the streets in celebration of Osama’s death, the sentiment in the air was “finally, we got what we wanted.” I found the whole event pretty disturbing not only because we were drinking to someone’s murder, but also because of the complete ignorance on most people’s part as to the repercussions. What we missed out on was a good chance to look inward; while one man is dead, a million others are walking the streets of the United States intolerant and Islamophobic. Last May, New York City passed a proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero that caused a huge controversy bringing up the questions of religious freedom and tolerance. The plan won a 29-1 vote and was moving along until angry Internet activists, bloggers and politicians got wind of it and began the “It’s a Slap in the Face” protest (first stated in a speech by good ol’ Sarah Palin). The anti-mosque protesters rally around a few ideas, focusing mainly on the fact that the building is insensitive. What many people have not bothered to look into or have chosen to ignore is that the mosque isn’t solely a mosque, but a community center that includes a pool, gym, dining area, play area for kids, etc. It is also not at Ground Zero but two blocks away at a complex called Park51 that cannot be seen from the previous site of the World Trade Center.
So what does this say about us as a “healing” people if we cannot tolerate a Muslim center in our midst? It says that we live in a fear-based society poisoned by the demonizing of non-westerners, specifically Arabs. What saddens me the most though is that these Muslim New York citizens who want the complex built are just that, New Yorkers, who were also affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. Since 2001 they have continuously faced fear and discrimination based on their religion. No one is discriminating against the Christians, holding them responsible for the Crusades. Clearly there are a hundred differences between these events but my point is that it is immoral to hold an entire people and their religion responsible for the actions of a few people.
Nevertheless, this Sunday will come and Americans will still be faced with a dilemma: how can we move past this? How can we feel safe again and not haunted by the tragedy that feels so fresh but now is a decade past? I can only hope that relatives of victims and everyone else affected can always find the support they need, whether it be from the words of carefully executed political speeches or a six-year-old’s peace quilt. With enough compassion, I think we’ll get there.