Remembering 9-11

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Today is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and the one plane that was forced to crash in Pennsylvania — 9-11.

With crystal clarity I remember where I was and what I was doing on that warm, sunny Tuesday. Working “four tens” for a local cable company, four days a week, ten hours a day, my “weekend” started Monday Morning and ended Wednesday night.

That Tuesday morning I had a task to do for a local service organization: sorting and labeling newsletters for mailing. One of my colleagues was on her way over to help and it would be a job that with two of us might take a couple hours. I had started already, newsletters splayed across the floor, sorted by zip codes.

The second plane, United Flight 175, about to hit the South Tower. (YouTube)
The second plane, United Flight 175, about to hit the South Tower.

To pass the time I had put on one of my favorite Music Choice channels, classic rock, and then thinking about the current events of the day, turned to MSNBC. There on the tube were the scenes from New York, which was roughly around 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

From every angle, from a variety of cameras, both professional and otherwise, scenes of the devastation unfolded. There were replays of the two planes hitting the towers of the World Trade Center. Immediately I called my brother who was working at the time, telling him he should get home. We lived together and San Diego being a military town, seemed like a likely and soft target. Carl declined. I put in a tape and began recording.

The job at hand disappeared from my consciousness, even while stepping over the piles of newsletters. The colleague rang the doorbell and I let her in, asking if she was following what was happened. She told me she didn’t watch, listen to or read the news because it was too depressing for her. Well, her serenity was about to be rocked.

Both of us stood like statues watching the scenes unfold, transfixed as the towers eventually collapsed. After what felt like an eternity, she looked at me with that horror in her eyes and asked, “What should we do?”

Looking down at the piles of newsletters on the floor, and dining room table, I replied, “Finish this. It’s all we can do.” And so we did. I’ll never forget it and it’s unlikely anyone who was the least bit cognizant that day will forget September 11, 2001.

Since then I’ve done a lot of soul searching, especially after an incident on my way home after work one night when I was mistaken for an Arab and had debris and epithets hurled at me while driving down Miramar Rd. here in San Diego. It was then I remembered my own abhorrent behavior some 22 years earlier when the Teheran Embassy personnel were taken hostage in Iran. In college at the time, I raged at anyone and everyone who looked, even vaguely, like an Arab or Muslim.

Shortly thereafter I wrote about and shared it, unloading that burden from my soul. Nine years later that’s an indelible memory as well.

The explosion after Flight 175 hit the South Tower. (YouTube)
The explosion after Flight 175 hit the South Tower.

Here we are today, and we haven’t crossed that divide as a nation, still harboring bigotry and stupidity, all in the name of religion. Yes, Muslim extremists committed the worst act of terrorism on our soil.

n The record holder before that, if you want to put it that way, was Timothy McVeigh when he blew up the Alfred R. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995.


Today, we revisit that horrendous event from 13 years ago, some with memorial services, and some of us without any notice whatsoever. But then there are others.

Like Islam we have our extremists too. People who wish to extract revenge on every Muslim, regardless of who they are, much as I did roughly 35 years ago.

One of the consequences of having a free and open society is that extremists can spout the meanest and most objectionable vitriol without any restraint. It’s in our First Amendment, as is the freedom to worship (or not worship) as one chooses.

n “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

One of the best ways to show the rest of the world we are not only a nation of laws, especially our constitutionally guaranteed rights, but a nation of tolerance. We don’t hold all Muslims responsible for 9/11 or the taking of hostages in Teheran in 1979. If someone wants to build a church, synagogue or mosque right next to “Ground Zero,” then we, as Americans, can tolerate that because we are better than those who don’t tolerate difference in their societies.

But that’s not the case. We have a bunch of people who protested and harrassed Muslims in New York City who wanted to build a community center four blocks from “Ground Zero.” A center with a culinary institute, a basketball court and prayer rooms for Islam, Christianity and Judaism, among other religions. Those objecting to the community center falsely referred to it as a mosque, claiming it was a “slap in the face” to all Americans, especially to those who lost someone in the 9/11 attacks.

Victims covered in dust, walking away from the World Trade Center. (Wikipedia)
Victims covered in dust, walking away from the World Trade Center.

When the extremists attacked on 9-11 their goal was to disrupt our way of life and poke holes in our social framework, especially financially. It didn’t work, not in the long term anyway. Our economy is back up and running. We had a long recession that started in 2008, but we’ve rebounded from that as well.

One piece of our society that has stood, although knee-jerk reactionary laws have damaged it, has been our Bill of Rights, in particular, the First Amendment. Which says Muslims — and Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindis, et al — have a right to build a place of worship anywhere, as long as what they are constructing complies with zoning and building permits. And, apparently, it includes the right to build community centers.

Forcing the community center to be built elsewhere would be the slap in the face to those of us who have served and fought in defense of this nation and our Constitution. It would tell those around the world we don’t extend the First Amendment to those who are different than us; that we are ultimately intolerant of religions other than what falls under our collective approval — Christianity and oh, okay, Judaism and that awful Roman Catholicism, which really isn’t real Christianity (wink-wink, nod-nod).

Religions, especially the three that worship the god of Abraham, put me off, but our First Amendment says my fellow citizens can worship as they please. It would please me to see religions taxed like other businesses, to see them restricted from building close to public schools, limiting the number of churches, synagogues and mosques built in any one area, but the First Amendment tells us otherwise. Okay, I can tolerate that.

So, I can tolerate a Muslim community center near Ground Zero, and even just down the block from me, if the worshipers can find a spot. Of course, I’d hate to see any more of the hills around here chopped down to facilitate any kind of development. The land has been raped enough.

Yes, we claim to be tolerant of all religions, but we’re not. Proposed mosques were attacked and picketed all over America, including Wisconsin and California, two states I’ve always thought were more progressive than most others, but every state has its kooks.

There are people who sincerely believe the Founders set up a Christian-based government and anyone who doesn’t adopt Christianity is wrong. That kook pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, even made that claim in front of the cameras.  Kooks like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich spread that nonsense too, feeding the hyper-crazy base of the Republican Party, the Tea Party.

n There was a time I thought ole’ Newt was one of the bright lights of the Republican Party. Then he began trying to out-rogue Sarah Palin.

n Terry Jones is the kook who loudly proclaimed he was going to burn a Quron on 9-11 in 2010 and had school children wear T-shirts to school that said, “Islam is of the devil.”

We could go on and on, but the fact is, we are not as “free” and tolerant as we claim to be, not by a long shot.

And now, on the 13th anniversary of “9-11,” we are reminded once again that we are still at war with terrorists. Last night President Obama outlined his plan to degrade and destroy the Islamic State: IS, or ISIL, or ISIS, however you want to I.D. this bunch.

The skyline of Manhattan, with the Twin Towers. (Wikipedia)
The skyline of Manhattan, with the Twin Towers.

The fear that has been whipped up over this terror group resembled what we went through in the days, months and years after 9-11. Once again we have given in to the terrorists’ wishes: we have disrupted our lives out of an irrational fear the Islamic State is coming to the U.S. — despite all assurances from experts in the field of security that IS is not, currently, targeting the U.S.

Our government has been fighting terrorists for a long time, long before 9-11. It was that terrible day that made us constantly aware of it. Think about this: a person who was five years old at the time is now 18. They have grown up with this level of fear and paranoia concerning terrorism. In their life times we’ve always had troops at war against Islamic extremists. This is their “normal.” Life has indeed changed.

Remember 9-11 today; remember we are better than those who choose to be violent and intolerant.