We all want to talk about where we were. I’m no exception.
It was the first anniversary of my father’s death and I wanted to visit his grave. An Army officer, he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Section 11: Grave 536-B. My father had been stationed at the Pentagon and so I always can drive past our old house at Fort Myer on my way to his gravesite. It is inevitably a poignant moment. We witnessed hundreds of funerals over the years on that street and as I drive I can always hear the echoes of the clip clop of horses pulling caissons and the sound of taps wafting across the manicured lawns.
I was carrying the pass to get into Fort Myer and walking through the kitchen. On the TV I saw an image of a plane crashing into the second tower and listened as Jim Miklaszewski, the NBC Pentagon correspondent, reported that something had happened at the Pentagon. I looked out my window and saw smoke billowing from the top of the building, only a few miles from where I live.
I didn’t leave the house. I knew right away that Fort Myer would be placed in lockdown. The more I watched TV and the more I learned about what had happened, I couldn’t help but wonder how my father, a war hero, would have reacted. Our country was clearly at war. But with whom? That was the question then. It is still the question today.
One of the great tragedies that came out of the attack on 9/11 was the perception among so many Americans, that we were, and have been since then, at war with Islam.
But at the time, I was frantic about being separated from my son, Quinn, who was away at school. I finally reached him by phone and he was equally frantic that the Pentagon attack had been so close to our house, and was concerned that there would be other attacks on Washington. I am not generally a fearful person. But since his birth, Quinn’s many medical and learning problems had made me terrified if something were to happen to my husband and me.
Later that afternoon, a sparkling “God’s in his heavens, all’s right with the world“ day was eerily calm. I ventured out for a walk along the Potomac to try to absorb what had occurred and what it all meant. It was so strange. There was hardly anyone on the streets and it was sunny and dry with a slight breeze as the water lapped the shores of the river. It was as if the horror of that morning had all been a dream.
Many places of worship were overflowing that day. Even those who were not religious wanted to be someplace together with others to pray or reflect. I didn’t pray. I didn’t know what to pray about. For me it was all about trying to make sense of what had happened.
It’s interesting how one huge event will overshadow all that takes place in the world every day. So many people were already suffering and dying and yet when something dramatic like 9/11 happens, believers, and even non believers long for answers.
Sadly, the answers many came up with after 9/11 were to blame this and other atrocities on Muslims. There are over a billion Muslims in the world. Most are peaceful. Only a handful distort their religion to commit murderous acts.
In the past decade, false perceptions and ignorance have intensified. When Barack Obama ran for president many thought he was Muslim (he is a Christian but almost 20 percent of Americans today still believe he is a Muslim and have a negative opinion of him for that reason.) Since then we have had candidates like John McCain say he would have trouble voting for a Muslim for president and Herman Cain saying he wouldn’t want a Muslim in his administration. Right wing Christian leaders have denounced Islam. Politicians have run scare campaigns against “sharia law” about which they clearly have no clue. The outcry against the proposed Mosque at Ground Zero, which was not a mosque and not at Ground Zero, became an international affair. The Koran burning resulted in many deaths abroad. Women wearing headscarves have been forced to defend their choices. Muslim terrorists are routinely identified as Muslim terrorists while Christian terrorists are not identified by their religion.
Why won’t Muslim leaders speak out against terrorism if they are so against it, critics ask? They do all the time in newspapers and Web sites, including this one. Muslim communities across the nation are constantly reaching out to combat those who attack a religion that has been hijacked by a small group of zealots. One such effort, this week in Washington, are blood drives around the country to try to save more lives than those lost on 9/11. These are citizens who care deeply, many of whom have sent sons and daughters to fight and die for this country.
At Dulles Airport last weekend with my family, I watched as a Muslim family, father and son in Western clothes, mother and daughter in long dresses but no headscarves, baby girl in tow, were stopped at immigration and fingerprinted. “Why don’t they dress like Americans?” someone in the crowd murmured. My daughter in law, who is half Persian and has not yet received a passport with her new surname, was questioned by the immigration officer when we came through. “How is she part of the family?” he asked. I pointed out that she was my son’s wife and that she had a different name from her husband as did I. I, of course, was not questioned.
As I mentioned, I did not pray on 9/11. The only thing I could think of to pray about was for answers and there were none.
However, I will pray this Sunday. I will pray that we as Americans, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics and others can come together to end prejudice, discrimination and hatred. Violence is not more a feature of Islam, than those qualities are features of other faiths and people of no faith. Let’s stop it before it gets really ugly and turns us into the very people we criticize and so desperately do not want to be.
More On Faith and 9/11:
Desmond Tutu: Our post-9/11 failures
Tony Blair: Remaking the world after 9/11
Sam Harris: 9/11 demands intellectual honesty
Thomas Monson: Rebuilding our souls
T.D. Jakes: Spirituality after the attack
Feisal Abdul Rauf: Radical Islam on its way out
Donald Wuerl: Peace begins internally
Katharine Jefferts Schori: Live the memorial
Mark Driscoll: Death and the hope of resurrection
Karen Armstrong: Unite through compassion
Deepak Chopra: Divided hearts, divided world
Yasir Qadhi: Americans still don’t know Islam
Sally Quinn | Sep 9, 2011 11:17 AM