September 11, 2013E-mail the writer
The big game they were hoping for didn’t really happen in Washington today, though the pre-game hype was epic in some corners.
It began with the announcement of a “Million Muslim March” on Washington for Sept. 11, the 12th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The march, granted a National Park Service permit and largely ignored by mainstream media, was organized by the American Muslim Political Action Committee (AMPAC), led by 9/11 conspiracy theorist M.D. Rabbi Alam. After enough outrage from conservatives over their in-your-face event, the group renamed it the “MillionAmericans Against Fear”, explaining that Muslims were also traumatized by the attacks and the way America has forever changed its perception and treatment of people practicing one of the world’s major religions.
“Peace, Harmony and Justice. A Civil Rights Movement for Humanity,” they declared on their Web site. Not good enough, some folks decided. And so the 2 Million Bikers to DC ride was born.
It grew in intensity last week, supporters swathed in red-white-and-blue righteousness peacocked online about the counter-protest ride and the Facebook page got nearly 200,000 likes.
On the page, organizers stated their goal: “WE, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, WILL STAND BY OUR CONSTITUTION (AS WRITTEN, NOT AS INTERPRETED BY THE THIS OR ANY PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION), WE WILL STAND BY OUR BILL OF RIGHTS (AS WRITTEN) AND WE STAND FOR AMERICA!”
They wanted a permit to ride through Washington this morning, through all the red lights and intersections, motorcade-style. The park service denied the last-minute request and told them that they are welcome to ride through the city, but would have to obey traffic laws, like everyone else.
Finally, this morning, on Sept. 11, maybe a couple thousand bikes roared down Constitution Avenue, rattling bystanders’ kidneys with their gutteral vrooms, getting a few fist-pumps and beep-beeps as their huge flags flapped in the humid, morning air.
On the Mall, about 25 activists, including Cornel West, marched on behalf of the Muslims. There were some signs, lots of police. Tourists stopped to take pictures. There were a few more counter-protesters; they carried huge crosses and signs like “Every Real Muslim is A Jihadist.”
On Twitter, the bikers declared victory. “Apparently the “Million Muslim March” today (very classy on 9/11) is a bust. But not “Million Bikers” event”, crowed tomtradup.
There was no big stand-off, no grand conflagration of right and wrong. As much as these people want to salve the deep wounds that Sept. 11, 2001, left on this country, nothing cannot be cured by setting up a faux arena and fighting for a winner. The bikers, by roaring through Washington and chanting USA! USA! did not make our country stronger, better, safer.
They had every right to express themselves, but their ride did nothing to strengthen our constitution or protect us from extremists.
Nor did the Muslim marchers, making a shrill statement on a complex and emotional day marking the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans, change any hearts or minds. They didn’t reduce the growing surveillance and monitoring of our entire population, they didn’t make life any easier for the Muslim emergency room doctor I met in Virginia, who wears her hijab to work and to the Boy Scout meetings she drives her son to, forever facing more scrutiny than her Christian peers.
Wearing a tribe’s colors and taking one-dimensional and combative, unrelenting sides has a place in America, sure. If you want to do that, become a football fan. Hate those Cowboys. Loathe those Eagles. Despise those 49ers.
But that kind of fanaticism doesn’t work on this day.
Most Americans know that. They weren’t taking simplistic sides, treating a complicated, epic and emotional day like the Super Bowl. They were talking about Syria, and what a complex, moral and difficult decision we face as a country.
They were thinking of the way we have changed as a people since those attacks, the vibrant and impassioned discussions we have about freedom versus security. And most of all, they were remembering the lives lost that day.
That’s the only right thing to do today.