Today, fifteen years after 9/11 and less than two months from one of the most significant elections in American history we stand at a critical crossroad, a future unknown, our security at risk.
On 9/11, as the earth mourned and the sky grew black, America was faced with an existential choice; whether to stand together united as a nation and confront the challenges of terrorism and evil as an enlightened, singularly-powerful democratic nation, or to overreact, overextend and overplay the challenge from terrorists operating from a dusty encampment in Afghanistan and elevate them to the status of adversary worthy of the United States.
America chose both. America under-thought the crisis and and overplayed its power.
We first fought a just war, mobilizing our military forces and collective will to take on Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and destroy their safe havens. Then, driven by overweening arrogance, we chose to engage in an illegal invasion and war in Iraq, destabilizing the entire Middle East with repercussions that plague us still.
That plague us still.
Today, as we witness how America failed to adequately rise to the complex challenges of the 21st century, we witness that rather than struggle to confront injustice and ease the burdens of the oppressed – and shield them from harm’s way – we’ve chosen to succumb to the politics of prejudice, exclusion and disenfranchisement.
Rather than confront injustice in order to enhance our security we deny dignity to the Other – and then we’re surprised when the Other refuses to ally with us.
That makes me incredibly sad and weary.
Five years ago, just before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I received a call from a reporter asking the ‘Muslim” me to share my thoughts on what had transpired since September 11, 2001.
In response I offered to write a column that appeared in the Portsmouth Herald (http://tinyurl.com/jr9vefo) on September 11, 2011. That column marked the beginning of a welcome new challenge which I now confront (almost) weekly – even on days when I’m sad and weary.
I’m blessed: I’m able to write a column informed by my identity as an American Arab Muslim who’s travelled extensively, primarily in areas where America’s often found itself in conflict. I’ve tried to present opinions contrary to prevailing conventional wisdom – not to proselytize but to share my thoughts and experiences in order to help readers understand that not all the world feels, believes or thinks as America does – and that that’s not bad!
I’ve tried to demonstrate that the global intersectionality of conflict, oppression and injustice includes America and I believe that only by knowing the Other can there be justice, balance and coexistence.
This is our struggle. Prophet Muhammad once spoke of a man who asked God why he was being punished. God answered, “You passed by an oppressed person but did not help him.”
The stock market has boomed since 2008, gasoline prices and foreclosures are down, millions more Americans have health insurance and more Americans are working today than at any time since Barack Obama became president.
Yet, it is also since the election of Barack Obama, despite the gains that followed the Great recession, that America entered into a xenophobic state more toxic than that immediately after 9/11. The virulent attacks on Obama as foreign, Muslim, Other fed a nativist uprising that today threatens our Public Square.
This rise of Islamophobia, of xenophobia, the rhetoric of marginalization of communities of color and immigrants, the increasing embrace of racist rhetoric and religious intolerance is intolerable and jeopardizes our security, our ideals, our children – and I will continue to confront them as I can.
This is what I feel called to do.
I reject those Americans who’ve abandoned the ideals of our Founding Fathers, who believe the sky will always be black.
I reject their nativistic keening and prejudices, their darkness.
I search for light, and believe I’m not alone.
Sunday. September 11th. 2016
Today, many Christian churches will read the last lines of Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, renew a right spirit within me.”
Renew a right spirit.
Tomorrow, believing, as Prophet Muhammad did, that the earth is made a place for our prayers and its soil is made for our purification, I will join my Muslim sisters and brothers in prayer to give thanks to God and to celebrate our Great Feast, which annually happens at the time of the Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mecca.
Tomorrow, 1.6 billion Muslims, from Portsmouth to Peshawar to the Philippines, will observe Eid Al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, in memory of the time when Abraham was prepared to offer his son Ishmael in sacrifice and when, at the last moment, through God’s Grace and intercession, a ram was instead offered.
Let us be humble.
Let’s together be open to intercession, be open to renew the right spirit within us all.