By Brian | September 11, 2010 | Share on Facebook
It’s become a bit of a personal, annual tradition for me to write something on the anniversary of September 11, 2001. Each one, quite obviously, is a little different, and reading through them all now (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009), provide an interesting (at least to me) perspective on how one processes a traumatic event like this one over the years.
This year, I once again note the degree to which we are moving on. There will be memorial services of course, but the President’s remarks at his most recent press conference show the shift in emphasis:
I’ll have further remarks tomorrow, but for now let me just note that tomorrow is a National Day of Service and Remembrance and I hope each of us finds a way to serve our fellow citizens — not only to reaffirm our deepest values as Americans, but to rekindle that spirit of unity and common purpose that we felt in the days that followed that September morning.
As was the case last year, I think this is an altogether healthy thing. We should not forget; we should never forget. But there will never come a time when September 11th isn’t the anniversary of the attacks. If we use the occasion as an annual reminder to do something positive, like a National Day of Service, then the day won’t fade into obscurity the way that Pearl Harbor Day has, for instance. As the grief fades, this grim anniversary will come to stand as a regular reminder of the American values that were attacked that day. I can live with that.
Sadly, there’s something else to note about the ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001. The national spirit of unity and community that enveloped us in 2001 has, as one would expect, long since faded. But this year, somewhat suddenly and for no apparent reason, the opposite sentiment – that of hatred, cruelty, and division seems to have sprung up and captured the national spotlight. It is evident in protests, sometimes peaceful but sometimes violent, against the building of places of worship in America, and it’s evident in the suggested burning of sacred religious texts by those of different faiths. Again, I turn to the President’s remarks:
Anne Kornblut: Thank you, Mr. President. Nine years after the September 11th attacks, why do you think it is that we are now seeing such an increase in suspicion and outright resentment of Islam, especially given that it has been one of your priorities to increase — to improve relations with the Muslim world?
President Obama: I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society. And so I think that plays a role in it.
One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal-clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam. We were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam, had stolen its banner to carry out their outrageous acts. And I was so proud of the country rallying around that idea, that notion that we are not going to be divided by religion; we’re not going to be divided by ethnicity. We are all Americans. We stand together against those who would try to do us harm.
And that’s what we’ve done over the last nine years. And we should take great pride in that. And I think it is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of the American people to hang on to that thing that is best in us, a belief in religious tolerance, clarity about who our enemies are — our enemies are al Qaeda and their allies who are trying to kill us, but have killed more Muslims than just about anybody on Earth. We have to make sure that we don’t start turning on each other.
And I will do everything that I can as long as I am President of the United States to remind the American people that we are one nation under God, and we may call that God different names but we remain one nation. And as somebody who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise. But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are fighting alongside us in our battles.
And I want to make sure that this country retains that sense of purpose. And I think [September 11th] is a wonderful day for us to remind ourselves of that.
And in response to a later question:
We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that WE DON’T DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN THEM AND US. IT’S JUST US.
[Emphasis added by me]
It’s easy to say that all of this is just politics rearing its ugly head right before a midterm election. But that was the case in 2006 and 2002 as well. And, one could argue, even more so the case in 2004 and 2008, when a Presidential election was on the line.
I think this is something else. A lot of people will believe just about anything they hear repeated enough times on television or the Internet, like the idea that the President of the United States is a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya, or that mosque-goers in lower Manhattan are the equivalent of Al-Qaeda terrorists. The media attention that naturally follows controversial speech provides cover for two kinds of people: those too lazy to think critically about “Today’s Top Story,” and those who actually harbor bigoted feelings towards entire groups of people who are different than they are.
I hope that September 11th truly becomes our annual reminder to “reaffirm our deepest values as Americans.” I also hope that in future years, it serves as a defense against those who would intentionally divide us for the sake of drawing attention to themselves, regardless of their motives. As the President also said repeatedly in his press conference, “We are not there yet.”
Here’s hoping we’re moving in the right direction.
God Bless America.