How Will We Be Remembered?
Nine years ago, the world changed forever. America learned just how high a cost radical fundamentalist/extremist terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam are willing to pay to punish the U.S. for what they perceive to be crimes against the Arab world.
We were hurt. We were scared. We were angry, and rightfully so. Not since Pearl Harbor had foreign attackers dared so bold an offensive against us, and the fact that the victims were civilians carrying out their daily lives only darkens the blood on the terrorists' hands.
That pain, that fear, that fury brought us together as a country, and in many cases helped the healing to come faster. Some people, however, seem to be more than willing to keep those wounds fresh, maybe even cut them back open.
Ask anyone about the proposed mosque and community center, planned to be built two blocks from Ground Zero, and you'll likely get an opinion. I think this is one of those issues where everyone has an opinion, if for no other reason than every American was touched in some way by the 9/11 attacks. Many are opposed to the idea, feeling it to be insulting to those who lost loved ones when the World Trade Center came down. A smaller number stand by the Muslim community, saying they have every right as guaranteed by the Constitution, to build the mosque where they will while admitting maybe a better site could have been proposed. Fewer still feel that it's the perfect place for what could become a symbol of what America is...or should be. I put myself in this last group.
I consider it a great irony that the same people thumping their chests say building the mosque would cruelly re-open wounds of the victims, while at the same time refusing to close the door on their own pain and anger, held onto for years, though likely forgotten until recent weeks. I'm disgusted by politicians who tout their opposition to the mosque for the purpose of gaining favor for the upcoming elections. Their "beliefs" on the matter are as fragile as tissue paper, and if popular opinion were turned around, their opposition would disappear faster than a box of donuts in my kitchen.
Would we evict every Japanese-American from Pearl Harbor because of what happened more than 60 years ago (nevermind the unfair treatment of Japanese-Americans at the time)? Would we kick out Mexicans because of the Alamo (wait...we're already kicking them out for other reasons)?
I'll only briefly mention the Pastor Terry Jones, leader of the Dove Outreach World Center in Florida, who plans to commemorate 9/11 by burning as many copies of the Quran as he can get his hands on. Jones said in an interview that he believes Jesus Christ, were he here today, would say, "Burn the Quran." I firmly refute that, and it is my opinion that there is little one could to to be less Christian than what he plans. That's all I will say on that.
I have gained a firm respect for Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of the mosque proposal. I recently came across this op-ed piece he wrote for the New York Times, where he talks about his self-assigned mission to build bridges across communities of different faiths and beliefs. He's written books about bridging the gulf between the Western and Muslim worlds, including one called What's Right with Islam is What's Right with America. British author Karen Armstrong had the following to say about him:
"Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf ... is a bridge figure because he has deep roots in both worlds. He was educated in Egypt, England, Malaysia and the United States, and his mosque in New York City is only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. After September 11, people often asked me, "Where are the moderate Muslims? why are they not speaking out?" In Imam Rauf, we have a Muslim who can speak to Western people in a way they can understand."
I'm not a Rauf scholar, but nothing I've read from him indicates that he wants anything except good strong relations between the West and Islam, between Muslims and other faiths. The proposed mosque is to be a community center, open to people of all faiths, with places set aside for faith-specific worship and prayer.
To me, this mosque symbolizes the potential for healing, for forgiveness, for true American values. What better way to say to the world, "We as a country believe in the goodness of people"? Forget that only a small fraction of Muslims hold the same extremist beliefs as those responsible for 9/11. Building the mosque where its leaders want it to be is a way to tell the world that we are bigger than our differences, stronger than ignorance, wiser than the unenlightened and willing to extend the hand of compassion, friendship and brotherhood to all who share our values. Muslims, true Muslims who follow the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed, do indeed, share those values.
We should never forget what happened on 9/11. We should never forget there are those out there who wish us harm because of the great values on which our nation was founded. LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley related a story once: while he was visiting the Holy Land, his taxi driver, an Israeli, drove up to a high hill that gave a magnificent vantage of Jerusalem, the capital of the embattled nation. With tears in his eyes, he told President Hinckley that America was the greatest nation on earth, citing its generosity and goodwill to other nations. I don't think our legacy should include hatred and hurtful grudges, carried for years and years.
I am heartened by the response of some families who did lose loved ones in the 9/11 attacks in supporting the mosque, showing the world that they understand what it means to forgive. A few examples (from cited sources on Wikipedia):
- Donna O'Connor, whose pregnant daughter died on 9/11, expressed the opinion that "This building will serve as an emblem for the rest of the world that Americans ... recognize that the evil acts of a few must never damn the innocent."
- Ted Olson, whose wife died in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, has said "we don't want to turn an act of hate against us by extremists into an act of intolerance for people of religious faith."
- Bruce Wallace, whose nephew died as he rushed in to help the victims, says "the media seems eager to trumpet the feelings of those hurt by the idea of the center. They mostly ignore my feelings and those, like me, who feel the center is an important step for Americans."
I wonder what those who say the mosque is insensitive to victims' families would say to these families and the others who support the mosque. I don't want to be callous; I understand where the argument comes from: it comes from a pain that was very real, very life-altering, very harrowing.
But there can be no peace in our lives without forgiving those who have trespassed against us. There can be no peace in our hearts while we hold on to anger or fear. Denying this mosque, to me, represents a failure to let go of those poisonous feelings.
I stood with every other American on 9/11 and watched our very existence change dramatically. I remember being fixated, along with several strangers, on the numerous big screen TV's at a store, watching network coverage as horror unfolded before our eyes. I felt pain and fear. But there should be no place for those things if we are to move forward.
Referring to the title of this post, how do we want to be remembered as a nation? Do we want to be remembered as a country willing to look past the actions of a few extremists hell-bent on mindless destruction? Do we want to be remembered as an angry nation unwilling to move past our pain and suffering?
I would like us to be remembered as a people willing to forgive, to give equal place to those whom we may not understand but accept as fellow Americans, fellow human beings.