Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Must Never Forget

This is a republication of my blog post from September 11, 2009.

Today on Facebook, many of my friends wrote: “Never forget.” They were, of course, referring to the devastating attacks we all experienced eight years ago. Flags flew at half mast today. Memorial candles burned in churches, office lobbies, and even hotels. Lists of the victims’ names -- so many of them! – re-revealed the tragedy’s scope not only through statistics (3,000+ deaths and 6,200+ injuries), but by reminding us of each individual light that was extinguished on that day.

Once again, we are in mourning. That is just as it should be.

However, along with these gentle and somber reminders, I have also received more than the usual amount of anti-Muslim propaganda: an expose of how Muslim law treats women… the old (and false) story about how Budweiser refused to sell to a convenience store after the owner cheered the victory of Al-Qaeda. The emails I have received tend to color all Muslims in the same shade of hatred, as if this diverse group is significantly more homogenous than Christians or Jews or Buddhists or women or homosexuals or African Americans.

The fact is, hate and bigotry can be found on the fringes of every religion, ethnicity, and cultural identity. Orthodox Jewish services separate men from women. Fundamentalist Christians believe non-Christians (as they define that term) are doomed to suffer an eternity in hell. If you think that Muslims have a monopoly on radicalism and hatred, you might want to check out the Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group site. Or, if you have a really strong stomach, you can look here or here. or here I could go on, but you get the idea.

That’s why I, too, will never forget. Not just about the plane crashes and the burning Twin Towers. Those images aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be with me forever.

But there are other things – very important things – I’m all too likely to forget when I wrap myself in the comforting cloak of our collective grief and anger. These are the things I must fight to remember:

I must never forget that in our fear and anger, we allowed our President and Vice President to highjack our national principles, freedoms, and rights.

I must never forget that our leaders took the unprecedented step of invading a foreign country that was not an immediate threat.

I must never forget that our creation of an immoral war has led to the deaths of over 4,300 American soldiers and more than 100,000 civilians so far (with credible estimates well in excess of 655,000 as of 2006), as well as scores of people from other nations.

I must never forget that 9/11 led to the remarkable conclusion, at the highest levels of government, that torture is a valid investigative strategy.

Finally, I must never forget that we have lived this nightmare before, in a thousand different forms both large and small: in the near-complete genocide of indigenous peoples around the world; in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II; in the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge; in the Holocaust; in attempts to “cure” homosexuals; in our ostracizing people with HIV/AIDS… I must never forget that our species has an almost pathological need to destroy those who frighten or anger us.

Most importantly, I must never forget that I am just as prone to this pathology as everyone else on the planet. For that reason, I must be forever vigilant, and I must be willing to protect our principles even when my own judgment lapses. In short, I must remain teachable.

Please, God, let me never forget. Please, let me remain teachable.

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