America still has much to cherish
The hearts and minds of our people were seared with the hot branding iron of hate on Sept 11, 2001. We are left with unspeakable images of death and horror, devastation and wrenching grief.
Some, with unkindly intent, have remarked that "Now the Americans know how it feels", as if our compassion and sympathy for others who have suffered similar fates could only come from experiencing the same ourselves.
Justification for such a misguided perception could come only from one blind to the innate generosity of the American people, a people who historically have been the first in line to give aid and comfort to the victims of catastrophe the world over, irrespective of race, religion, or ideology. Deaf also to the outcries of injustices our people communicate - spontaneous, and loud, verbally and in print, in music and in art....for we are NOT bound by the constraints of censorship.
That the horrors of that Tuesday were unprecedented in our country, that never in our history have the ravages of war been witnessed, so immediately, by so many, we concede. But, it is left to the perpetrators of this heinous attack on our country and its people, to concede defeat. For out of the womb of darkness and despair, which for one historical moment, we dwelt, a new American emerged - cleansed and refined. One in whom love, loyalty, and reverence reigns over hate, disunity, and disrespect. One who embraces his heroes and who can cry, unabashedly with suffering strangers. And one who selflessly gives his own life blood to his wounded fellow man. In many, years of character-building has been accomplished in the span of one day.
I had an experience long, long ago which had a profound personal effect on me, in spite of the fact I was unable to identify the symptoms. I was only 4 years old then, our nation still at war with Germany. Holding tightly my mother's hand as we walked down a brightly lit boulevard in Little Rock. I watched the traffic jams, resulting from drivers stopping their cars to shout greetings and God-speed to the many young men in snappy uniforms, brass buttons gleaming under the light of the street lamps, as they entered or exited the USO club.
Pedestrians embraced them, patted their backs or just shook hands, demonstrating, without reservation, their tremendous pride and affection.
All my life it has been my wish to experience this wonderful feeling again, My wish came true when I witnessed the same scene in NYC. This time it was uniformed firemen and policemen, rescue and recovery people, so many volunteers many had to be turned away. As surely as the soldiers, sailors and marines were risking their lives by going to war, so were these by entering another war zone. I heard the same applause, saw the same demonstrations of appreciation, and I felt the same surge of emotion - love, pride, grief - that I felt on that day so many years ago.
As the many hand-held flags were proudly lifted above their heads, it was as if a red, white and blue blanket had descended and, somehow, from then on, would protect us from further harm.
Patriotism. We've so much to be proud of. So much to be grateful for. So much to look forward to. And so many beautiful moments to remember.
Let's not give in to terrorism by becoming bigots
It is the nature of humanity that we must be able to give a name to that which we despise. As antipathy arises, from causes both real and imagined, people of every race and sex and creed most often resort to the application of derogatory terms.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that not only are these names inaccurate, but they denigrate or imply the guilt of those who are not deserving of such.
In the days since the horrific attacks, we as Americans have looked for targets for our hatred, our vengeance. Some of us have already begun with the name-calling. I need not repeat the names that have been said, but it has been evident both in my home city as well as on the news I see daily on TV, that many are ready to assign blame based on nationality, race, and religion.
Some people are willing to throw away a part of what makes us American, our diversity, and attack fellow Americans simply because those Americans look like they fit one of the labels applied to terrorists.
This attack was the work of individuals. This was not the work of all Muslims. This was not the work of all Arabs. This was not the work of any country, religion, or race as a whole.
Those who have done this dreadful thing may try to justify their terrorism in the name of country or God. But saying a thing, as we all know, does not make it so.
Terrorism is an equal opportunity employer. Terrorists include in their numbers members of every race, every religion, every political party, every creed and belief. Terrorism greedily welcomes those who denigrate, as well as those who are denigrated. Above all, terrorism welcomes those whose hearts are full of hatred and bigotry.
Unlike terrorism, however, the blanket of terror covers those of all ages as well, from unborn children in the womb, to tiny infants incapable even of walking yet, to those who have lived a long time and may no longer be able to do those things they once did.
Terror can be caused not only by those who are terrorists, but by the victims of the terrorists as well. When victims rise up, lash out, and try to inflict damage, if they do not target the cause of that damage, then the victims in turn may become the victimizers.
There are those who believe that in saying this, I say turn the other cheek, ignore the atrocities and move on. That is not what I mean at all.
But if we go out blindly, armed with derogatory names, acting in the name of patriotism, in the name of vengeance ... If we then go out, and harm other people, for the sin of being born in the same country as a terrorist, or the same religion as a terrorist, then we become the terrorists.
Fire can be either a carefully wielded tool, or a destructive inferno raging out of control. Let our revenge be precise as a laser. Let us take out the cancer that is terrorism and remove this evil from our lives. But do not allow the flames of hatred to rage out of control, incinerating innocents, and eventually consuming ourselves as well.
By the same token, let us also think more carefully about the names we apply, for what we do and what our children learn, comes most oft from what we say. If we must apply derogatory terms, then let them fit the crime, and the criminal. Cease thinking of what terrible names you can call people based on their race or religion, and find new terms to make it clear just what we, as people, think of terrorists.
We can start with cowards, we can move on to insane, but for some of us those words will not be enough.
But remember this above all. If we give in to the terrorists, if we change who we are and what we are, the terrorists win. If we as Americans give up our civil rights out of a sense of fear, then the terrorists have won. If we as Americans react in hatred and without accuracy, the terrorists will win. There are other solutions, and if the terrorists are to lose then we must find and apply those solutions.
Some solutions are as basic as remembering to blame only those who deserve it. Other solutions are mechanical, such as improving airplane security; not by taking away American rights, but perhaps by something as simple as separating the cockpit completely from the passenger section. Let us triumph by overcoming this terror without giving up that which makes us Americans.