Michael Wolfe will be writing his "From a Western Minaret" occasionally for Beliefnet.
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.
Last year on September 11th, I went to a political demonstration. Though I still do feel like marching against the new militarism of America, this year I’ll go to the courthouse. The chances are good I won’t wind up sitting on an actual jury. Other applicants always seem to be chosen before my number comes up. But whatever happens, I’ll have been consistent with what I feel these days about being a Muslim in this country: That even in the worst of times the only way your point of view will ever be reflected is if you take part in the process--any part.
Of course, there is more to taking part than showing up for jury duty. Among our main obligations as Americans is to speak up. On the fifth anniversary of September the 11th, I wish more Americans would exercise their vocal chords. There is an unpleasant silence in the face of current events and official spin that sounds too much like capitulation. So let me raise my voice a notch and pose an irritating, two-part question:
Will the administration position terrorism and security as the key issue in the next American election? Undoubtedly.
Is terrorism the largest global threat? Not by a long shot.
If five years ago the governments of the world, led by the United States, had begun to battle global warming rather than train so much might and power on the anarchic shadow known as terrorism, we might now be some way down the road to a softer landing regarding our climate and environment. As it is, the White House and Congress have so shifted our attention that we are more worried about a second airline shoe-bomber than about the industrial ruination of the planet.
Apparently, keeping mega-profits flowing through the veins of our giant corporations is more important than maintaining the health of the planet where we live. A foreign policy that advocates war rather than diplomacy only adds to these profits, and pumps more pollution from low level radiation and burning oil fields into the air.
Is that irritating enough?
So far, Congress has allocated $320 billion to the deficit-financed Iraqi war. If my exceedingly wealthy nation should instead give a tenth of those dollars to Pakistan and Indonesia for education, health clinics, clean water, and roads, and if it simultaneously joined wealthy Arab nations to improve Middle Eastern countries in education, health clinics, clean water and roads, we would see a rapid shift toward the West in global loyalty.
That would leave $250 billion to deal with global warming, security from terrorism, education, health, water, and roads here at home. As a minor by-product, someone would almost certainly turn in the dreaded Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden.
As things stand now, a comparative handful of sociopaths, "bad boys for life," in hip hop mogul P. Diddy 's words, are leading the rest of the world by the nose. On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, they are winning.