I’m very fortunate. I did not personally know anyone who died on September 11, 2001. Like every American, I’ve experienced the social, emotional, psychological and political fallout of the terrorist attacks.
Most people seemed to strengthen their faith in response to the terrorist attacks-faith in God, faith in each other, faith in America. I didn’t gain or lose faith in anything at that point, but I started to feel like an observer.
I wasn’t changing in the same way as everyone else.
My friend Michael bought an American flag on September 12. I was concerned because the flag was made in China. Few seemed concerned; it was the flag, the message that was important.
A few years later, my job was outsourced to Asia.
Some of my friends went to church more. I just started writing even more than I already had. I lost touch with my friends in New York City. As soon as the attacks happened, the phone lines were jammed. I went on instant messenger to contact them. They were understandably distant. Over time, I would only talk about it when they wanted to, but I could tell their lives were consumed by what happened to the twin towers. Finally it became “You’re not from New York. You don’t understand.”
I guess the friendships ended after that and it was a small victory for the terrorists. Maybe it’s just the way things are.
One of my professors read John O’Connor’s poem “Baghdad” just before American forces invaded Iraq. The poem was effective. Until the end, most of the students in the audience thought the poem was about another city. I went up to the microphone and sang Paul McCartney’s “Calico Skies.”
There was a tension emerging on campus-one that still waxes and wanes today, sometimes coinciding with political elections. Back then it was a bit different; it wasn’t about a mosque near Ground Zero or burning Qurans. I listened as President Bush used the word “crusade” and then proceeded to invade two Middle Eastern countries.
For the most part, I understood the Afghanistan invasion.
I saw the problems with Iraq immediately. Maybe it had something to do with my mild obsession with counterculture during Vietnam. I wanted to speak out and I did. Even on a college campus, I was met with resistance. Most people just wanted to pray. I ordered a tee shirt modeled after Viggo Mortensen’s. I saw it as blood for oil and felt that going to war on a false premise dishonored our troops.
I was assured that President Bush was “chosen by God.”
I guess I could have hated religion or religious people, but I started to feel bad for some of them. Some of my friends remained religious but examined the political situation objectively, like the one who bought the American flag on September 12. Others blindly followed the will of the government because of the closeness of church and state at that time and the reaction to the attacks, and seeing this made me aware.
Ultimately, I learned that I have a lot of faith in the government as others lose faith in the system.
While a Republican-dominated government attempted to make severe changes, dissidents in congress utilized the filibuster to prevent a reign of absolute power. (Despite this success, some Democrats are now trying to delete the filibuster.)
I felt upset that suddenly one’s religious affiliation automatically determined a political party in most instances. This reminded me of the political climate in Northern Ireland-a volatile situation many times over.
I cried when Barack Obama was inaugurated. I think I might have cried if McCain had won, too, for the same reason-we had changed direction. Either choice was better than what had been. With Obama, I hoped to see more tolerance and cooperation in our country.
Now I turn on the TV to see holy books in peril and the location religious places debated upon. When I hear about Christians wanting to burn the Quran, I’m pretty sure that’s what the Islamic extremists want; that’s the reaction they’d like to entice.
For both citizens and terrorists, moderate or extreme, the war of terror goes far beyond boots on the ground, guns in the hand or planes into buildings. It’s about contrasting ideologies and whether they can co-exist. The fundamental beginnings of America-the writings of our founders-indicate that those believing differently can live in one nation.
We’re on the verge of proving that untrue, and that would be true victory for the terrorists.