9/11 is still with us. In so many ways, it continues to shape our lives: from how we travel to how we have come to define the role of our country in the world. Many of the laws and practices that have been implemented and the foreign policies we have pursued in the past five years have, in large measure, been shaped in reaction to the horror, shock, anger, and resolve we experienced.
When we look back five years later, feelings are still quite raw–”as well they ought to be. It was a time of powerful and complex emotions. Back then I wrote about the grief we felt at our nation’s loss, the fear many Arab Americans and American Muslims experienced, the sense of gratification that came as so many of our fellow citizens, despite their pain, came to defend us. I also wrote about my anger.
Because my feelings then still ring true to me, I want to share some of those thoughts from September 2001.
I am angry, very angry. The terrorists who struck on September 11 violated the openness and freedom of my country. They killed thousands of my fellow citizens and they have done incalculable damage to the Arab American and American Muslim communities…
I found it almost incomprehensible that in the years they prepared to kill thousands that they were not moved to question their intended evil by the good that they saw around them everyday.
They took advantage of Americans to kill Americans and for that I am angry.
I am angry, as well, because their terrorism has brought so much sorrow and so much loss to so many. Not only did they kill thousands, but their act has created a national trauma…
Americans have lived through many traumatic events in this media age…In each of these instances, Americans sat riveted to their televisions, transfixed by grotesque images of death playing out before our eyes.
There has been something quite different about this tragedy. This time Americans did not simply suffer for the victims, we suffered with the victims. Possibly because the weapons were ordinary civilian aircraft and the death scene was a place of work, and because the casualties were so many, those of us who watched were affected to our core.
Each of us said, “it could have been any one of us.” And in a way it was. People from every nationality, race and faith died. And as we watched in the days that followed and listened to the stories of those who survived each of us were able to relate to the horror, the loss and the fear. As a nation we have mourned and been filled with an almost unquenchable sadness. And for that too I am angry.
Because almost every American has reacted to this momentous and traumatic event, in his or her own unique way, the reactions have been varied. There have been stories of unparalleled bravery. There are also stories of uncommon goodness. But others have reacted out of fear, ignorance and prejudice. And because of that, I am also angry…
While most Americans have turned to Arab Americans and been extremely supportive, there are bigots who have attacked Arab Americans, American Muslims and even Sikhs who have been assaulted and killed because of their attire. Arab Americans and Muslim American school children are afraid to go to school, taxi drivers and storeowners are afraid to work. In a few instances, Arab Americans have been refused the right to fly because their fellow passengers are afraid to be on a plane with them.
The President has spoken out against this bigotry, as have almost all other public officials…
The tide is turning. And our efforts are paying off…
We will continue to fight bigots and we will win. But it was all so unnecessary. This pain and suffering did not have to be. And this fear did not have to be, if the evil doers had not committed these acts of terror on September 11. And for that I am angry.
There are reports that there may be more terrorists planning still more attacks. This has created more fear and more suspicion, putting more Arab Americans and American Muslims at risk. And so I say to the terrorists, get out! And to those who may plan to come in the future, stay away-we do not want you! You have done too much evil already. You have killed too many. You have created too much sadness, fear and hatred. And you have done our community immeasurable harm.
— September 2001
I’m still angry. Angry, of course, at those terrorists who struck my country. But I’m angry, as well, at leaders both here and in the Arab world who failed to grasp the enormity of the moment and find ways to reach out across the deep divide that was exposed by 9/11.
Despite what we have been told in recent days, Americans are not safer, nor are we more respected in the world. On the one hand, Americans know less about Arabs and Muslims and are more fearful of both. And, as a result of some of the bizarre policy decisions pursued by this Administration in the Middle East, that region is in turmoil and America is despised.
It didn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to stay this way. But work must be done to reverse course, defeat terror, and build understanding. It will not be easy to undo the damage that has been done. But five years of this madness is enough.