Around the Woodstove: 9th anniversary of Sept. 11 poses unique opportunity
As an adult with a college education, I prefer to think I am guided by reason, not impulse. But years ago, when I was teaching high school English, a student and street gang member I confronted in a hallway threatened to shoot me. His unforgettab...
As an adult with a college education, I prefer to think I am guided by reason, not impulse.
But years ago, when I was teaching high school English, a student and street gang member I confronted in a hallway threatened to shoot me. His unforgettable words: "Touch me, (expletive), and I'll blow you away." His threat had an effect like assault. After several days, the shock and anger from the incident petrified into negative feelings about other African-Americans.
For they were the same color as the young man in the hallway.
Certainly, this was not "thinking," with all the wisdom, balance, consideration and logic that careful thinking implies. Instead, it was a knee-jerk, physiological response, a survival instinct carried over from caveman days when we had to flee or kill whatever was different from us in order to survive. A gut response my educated brain advised me to resist.
A similar mindset has recently prevailed in response to a proposed mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York. The controversy has only intensified on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11.
That's because the people proposing to build the mosque are of the same religion and ethnicity as the terrorists who murdered 3,000 innocent Americans on Sept. 11, 2001. Though they are not directly to blame, their shared affiliation with the plane hijackers would make the mosque seem like an enemy presence. A mere two blocks from the hallowed ground zero, it might even feel like an arrogant triumph of Islam, reminiscent of invader Achilles in "The Iliad" dragging the corpse of Hector through the streets of his own city of Troy.
It's understandable the mosque seems or feels that way to many Americans, for whom the hurt from the massacre is deep and lasting. And it is human nature to want to succumb to passionate grief and anger. But we must fight those feelings since tears cloud good judgment and clear perception. We must fight those feelings because reasonable, fair thinking makes it obvious that the Muslim worshippers share no blame for the Sept. 11 terror. In fact, the head of the New York mosque has been outspoken in his condemnation of the terrorists and of their corruption of Islamic doctrine to rationalize their acts.
Were we to routinely hold a religion responsible for the crimes of one of its radical groups or individuals, then Catholicism, for example, might well be blamed for the 32 murders committed by John Wayne Gacy, a devout Polish Catholic from Chicago.
Still, some argue that the religious connection between Islam and terror is more than incidental since suicide bombers expressly cite religious convictions as motivation for their acts. Again, this is flawed thinking, which, absurdly, would point the finger of blame once more at Christianity, after Scott Roeder assassinated Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, crediting the moral teachings of the Bible as his inspiration.
Today, Americans, collectively, need to reflect:
Yes, it's to be expected that battered, scarred hearts would feel provoked by the circumstances involving the Manhattan mosque. But it does not take a New York City detective to discern that the Muslims planning a cultural center had no motive and nothing to gain from any sort of act of provocation.
It is not easy to fight the internal battle against the mistrust and even hatred for an essentially innocent group of people after sustaining a devastating blow.
But imagine daring to do so. Imagine the potential for healing if relatives of the victims of Sept. 11 were to join together, if not today very soon, with fellow New Yorkers and members of the Manhattan mosque in a solemn anniversary ceremony to remember and honor those 3,000 lives.
Imagine how hard and momentous a step forward it would be for us all.
David McGrath of Hayward is the author of "Siege at Ojibwa," available at booklocker.com.