September 11th: What we should have learned, but probably didn’t

My heart goes out to everyone who suffered injuries and/or lost friends and family during the tragedies of September 11, 2001. It is pretty much impossible for me to even begin to imagine the type of pain, grief and despair that persons who were directly affected by the heinous acts still suffer to this day.  Although it has been more than a decade since those heinous acts, I still don’t take security from acts of terror in America for granted.  If  September 11th didn’t teach Americans anything else, it should have taught us to remain vigilant in regards to evil men who would kill innocent people in order to further their prejudicial agenda that is often based on race, religion and politics.  Moreover, there is something else that America should have learned, but apparently did not.  After years of reflecting on the events—trying to understand why men would wreak such havoc upon other people—I have come to realize some hard lessons regarding September 11th.

Following the unprecedented massacre of thousands of innocent victims, many white Americans, including leaders, were on television espousing their love for the nation and the importance of uniting against a common enemy during that crisis. It was a little ironic—if not surreal—to tell you the truth. I heard some people ask, “Why do they hate us so much?”  The “funny” thing is that though these citizens may sincerely believe their notions of an America that is the epitome of the great words written by America’s forefathers, they may not meaningfully and actively express the values that are embodied in the U.S. Constitution and the spirit upon which America’s laws are based. To me, many of those people placed on stage—for the entire world to see—the very facade that has existed for decades within America. It is true that we are a great nation of people that will unite in outrage and resolve against outside enemies who would do us harm, but all is not well within these united states (pun intended).  We are not truly united.  Why espouse seemingly unfettered patriotism in times of crisis when you don’t even give your own compatriots their proper respect in times of “peace”?  I realize that perhaps I am being cynical, but when I saw those few whites declaring their love for America and espousing its unified resolve during the days that followed September 11th, hypocrisy and irony were a few of the first things that came to my mind.

Not only are many whites’ patriotic cries ironic, but I feel that it is also ironic that many members of our federal government who control and/or make policy towards foreign governments and political organizations fail to realize that their actions (or lack thereof) often play an indirect role in the growth of environments that lead to extreme behavior by desperate people.  Perhaps our government should learn to listen not only to the concerns of so-called extremists, but to those whose warnings are usually scoffed at and ignored by Washington.  After hours of intense reflection, I have decided that some organizations resort to violence against their perceived enemies because they feel disenfranchised.  The economically and politically powerful—especially many within the United States—will not sincerely entertain the concerns of people who feel disenfranchised and/or oppressed.

Listen, I am not saying that Americans should deal with people who are unwilling to compromise or are hellbent on our destruction due to religious and political demagoguery.  I actually despise groups that wantonly carry out gratuitous violence against innocent people due to religious and political differences. But for those who respect freedom, tolerance and self-determination,  Americans should at least be willing to listen.  And, after listening, we should be willing to forge ways to common ground and make compromises (if not sacrifices) when it is possible.

Today, more than a decade removed from September 11th, a huge swath of America is still not listening. This part of America—often manipulated by social and political ideologues—refuses to not only hear the cries of oppressed people all over the world, but its own disenfranchised citizens.  America has disenfranchised large segments of its black citizens along with other non-whites (as well as whites who are more racist than smart enough to realize that they are in the same boat as minorities).  Though blacks and other ethnic minorities (e.g. native Americans) have cried out for socioeconomic equality for decades, many politicians and their constituents continue to neglect and/or reject the heartfelt appeals of their compatriots. Fortunately for all of us, most Americans have chosen to use peaceful and civil methods to bring about change, but the time may come when patience and understanding is gradually overcome by violence. For example: Occupy Wall Street, a movement for social, political and economic change has been peaceable for the most part, but there have been some instances of violence.

The desire for justice, as well as social and economic equality is compelling enough unto itself to quickly transform sanity into insanity, but when you throw in even more nuances regarding all kinds of beliefs, the seriousness of the situation becomes even more real.  Misguided Americans who do not believe that the U.S. should be a melting pot of ethnic cultures, religions and ideologies have carried out and/or made veiled threats against our way of life.  Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, exemplifies one of America’s own biting her in the hand. Ironically, I feel that our government’s unwillingness to truly lead the way when it comes to fostering socioeconomic freedom is that which breeds hate, resentment, and a lack of tolerance for other people. Our society’s backlash against altruism, spirituality and basic equality nurtures the atmosphere of misunderstanding, jealousy, hate and spite that drives the diabolical intentions of the Timothy McVeighs and Osama Bin Ladens of the world. Moreover, America’s unwillingness to confront these real social problems have led these misguided persons to applaud each others’ bad behavior, as evidenced by some of the comments on white supremacist web sites following the attacks on September 11.

Until our leaders decide to sincerely and systematically lay the foundations to provide equal opportunities for all people regardless of ethnicity, religion, culture, finances, etc., there will always be an underlying mistrust, resentment and ignorance within our society.  In other words, if our top officials would make it their personal mission to become role models in the fight to rid our country of racism and discrimination—and all the evils that result from different forms of prejudice—this would become a practical mandate for all Americans to rid their lives of these ills.  If so-called leaders would fight for what is truly right, and not just what appears to be right for their pocket books and the super rich, ignorance and hate would be minimized to a point where true love, caring and concern for our fellow human beings would gradually take their place.

The lives of those lost in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania should not be remembered as a backdrop for a facade of patriotism. Let their deaths be a reminder that regardless of ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, etc., most people just want the opportunity to live productive lives and fulfill their dreams. Let all of us—particularly those in positions of power and influence who sing patriotic songs in front of cameras and quote our constitution—live by the spirit and ideals upon which America was founded.  When America-the-reality learns to embrace America-the-ideal,  then love for America and the principles that all of its citizens thrive by will be that which other nations and people of the world strive for as they learn to respect and champion the rights of others.

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