Five years later and the thought of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon still brings tears to my eyes. The imagery of that morning -- especially of the second plane diving into the tower -- is seared into my brain. Some people compare the attack to a nightmare, but, for me, it is far more vivid than any nightmare. Nightmares fade quickly after you wake; this memory is indelible.
At times, I'm enraged with fury at the men who flew those planes and the people behind them -- the radicals who attacked my country without warning, and on the slimmest of provocations. American foreign policy has at times been horrific -- another 9-11 comes to mind, when we helped Pinochet take over Chile in a military coup, as does America's unconditional support for Israel, no matter what atrocities they might commit -- but nothing justifies killing civilians in the way they did. Nothing justifies appropriating religion for political purposes. Nor can Islam legitimately be used to justify the murder of civilians; doing so is a complete perversion of the faith.
At other times, I'm angry precisely because those men perverted my faith, and are responsible for all Muslims being viewed with suspicion and hatred. They are responsible, in part, for our brothers and sisters being killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Lebanon. I'm furious because others have followed in their footsteps, believing their claims that it's Islamically ok to bomb civilians, and that it somehow serves whatever ends they have. I'm angry that anyone can think killing people, especially killing in the name of Islam, will get them what they want -- a more Islamic order on earth. What kind of backwards logic is that? Killing doesn't make things better, it only results in death of innocent people and a hardening of the heart against the killer.
Sometimes I am mad at my country. Our foreign policy since WWII has been disastrous. The Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia, Central America, Chile, the Phillipines, the Middle East. Everywhere we have gone we have supported dictators and tyrants, evil, violent men, who have no heart and no concern for their peoples. I am furious that we always come down on the wrong side, creating the feelings that lead to the kind of extremism that allows people to behave as bararously as those men and their backers did on 9-11.
Sometimes I'm angry that our response has been to wage two wars. Wars which have provided fertile recruiting grounds for Al-Qaida and their ilk. Wars which have had little justification, especially the war on Iraq, and terrible consequences for the civilians of those countries.
I'm angry that our government has exploited the attacks to erode civil liberties and civil rights; that they have grabbed for surveillance authorization that impacts on everyone's privacy. It makes me mad that people think you can spot a terrorist by what he or she takes out of the library -- and thus all of us are afraid of reading something controversial, or even doing research for a book we are writing.
I'm angry that my government has decided that it is better to spend billions of dollars on a war than on our own educational system, our social security system, on programs that would actually help to some of the millions of starving people in other countries feed themselves.
I'm angry that people think Muslims haven't spoken up against terrorism, when every American Muslim group I know of has spoken against terrorism; American Muslim groups have even been formed to counter terrorism -- Muslims for a Safe America, Muslims against Terror. But with the overwhelming barrage of violent images being fed to the American public day in and day out on CNN, Fox, etc, with "expert" analyist who peg Islam as the cause of this violence rather than invasion, or occupation, or desperate social, economic and political conditions, there is no hope to be heard over the roar of those saying we are silent. We are not silent; we are shouting but our voices are drowned out.
All this anger is exhausting. There are days I can't face it, when I feel hopeless to make any positive change in the world at all. The forces at work seem so beyond my ability to impact, whether it be within my religion, or within my country, or within the media.
In all this, where is the room for sadness? For the grief for lost lives? For the grieving that we all need to heal? I don't think this country has let itself have the quiet, the space it needs to heal. Instead, we have jumped into vengeance. And while vengeance serves a certain, indignant need, it does not heal. At the end of the day, those men and women who lost their lives on 9-11 are still dead, joined now by people from another country, the vast majority of whom were equally innocent. More dead. More grief. More mourning.
Those people, too, were my brothers and sisters. We are all brothers and sisters. Killing one another doesn't solve the problems, it creates more.
Some days, I feel very cynical, sure that the Bush regime has manipulated the situation to get and do things that they wanted, and could never have attained without 9-11. Sometimes, this cynicism is strong enough that I wonder if they even had a hand in it, given some of the oddities of that day. There are days when I think it is awful not to trust your own government. Then there are days when I think about the hundreds of thousands of Americans who marched before the Iraq war, trying to prevent it, and how those people were ignored by the government, and I think, who do they really serve? The people? Or their own interests? The interests of their rich friends?
I wish I had good answers to these questions. I wish I could convince the vast majority of America that, indeed, the vast majority of Muslim abhor violence the same way Americans do. I wish I could convince my government that a policy of love would be far more effective than one of exploitation and war. On this day, all those wishes just come into focus at little more sharply.