The politicization of 9/11, some say, was inevitable. I say it was a sad day in American history. The next saddest day was September 12th when America declared war on terrorism (a phantom enemy if there ever was one) in a move that gave a dormant regime in Washington an instant raison d’être. Don’t get me wrong: A reason to exist is a good thing to have for any administration. Unfortunately, this one has plunged the U.S. into a naïve new international doctrine that favors bombs and garrisoned nation-states over diplomacy and caution.
I could go on. But September 11th is not about all that.
It’s about Melissa Doi losing consciousness on an upper floor of the Twin Towers, down on the carpet, having trouble breathing, still on the phone with the operator.
It’s about Omar Amanat, a young Manhattan businessman, who had offices in one of the Towers and who was caught in traffic that morning and couldn’t get to work on time. He lost several employees to the fire, smoke, and falling buildings. A Muslim, he never went on Fox News or CNN to broadcast the haunting story of his plight.
September 11th is about the two NYPD officers portrayed in Oliver Stone’s recent Hollywood movie--Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin, who were trapped in a hole and then in hospitals for months, two of only 20 souls who made it out of the buildings from among the 2,789 who did not. It’s about the 2,769 who … did not. It’s about their wives, children, cousins, nephews, parents, and friends.
And it’s about the One Who Got Away, the sole unidentified man who escaped in the company of survivor Tom Canavan (who himself crawled 40 feet east and 30 feet up through debris to claw his way out of the rubble of the South Tower). This phantom survivor, last seen by Canavan, vanished into thin air and has not been heard from since.
By extension, September 11th is about all the others: Each of us who knew someone or had a relative who has since perished in the wearying succession of retaliations and international assaults that have passed before our eyes in the last five years. For me, personally, it’s about Moustafa Al-Akaad, the Syrian-born American film director, who stretched cultural and technical boundaries to bring “The Message,” a feature-film version of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, to the silver screen, and who gave us the flawless historical masterpiece, “A Lion of the Desert.”
Moustafa, who was attending a wedding, died in Jordan in November last year of wounds and a heart attack in the Amman hotel bombings. He died too soon. The man who made a movie called “The Message” became a message about the fruitless tragedy of random violence.
A Part of the Process
The other day I received a summons to show up for jury duty in the county where I live. At first glance there was nothing unusual about it. In the past I have sometimes skipped this small responsibility of every citizen, pleading prior “obligations.” But the date on the summons this time is September 11, 2006. This time, I won’t skip. Let me explain why.
In my six decades as an American, I have rarely felt well represented by American foreign policy. Today, things are worse than ever and, like a lot of people here, I feel certain that nothing I do or say will have the slightest effect. Americans by and large are reasonable people; it’s a shame they have no say in their government anymore.
My government is so deeply wrapped up in big business, in oil, and in the rhetoric of xenophobic nationalism and pundit-driven paranoia that there is nothing we can do, at least until the next election. So, I’m going to show up for jury duty and make a difference where I can.
A few years ago I wrote an article suggesting that Islam might be the next big American religion. I still believe Muslims have a substantial future in the United States, but today I would place the emphasis differently: Muslims in America need to take a bigger part in the American political, social, civic, and cultural process. Since I’m a Muslim, I guess I’ll get started.