We have been at war for nine years.
Nine long, grueling, dismaying years.
And once again we come upon 9/11. It is a day remembered as when 19 people got out of bed one morning and killed 3,000 of our fellow Americans. Americans of every race, creed and background were afflicted by the attacks, and still are to this day.
And yet nine years later, we still find it necessary to point fingers, lay blame and politicize the pointless deaths of those on the planes and in the buildings. But the question arises as to how we should honor and remember those who died.
Several years ago I stood at the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
The memorial is simple and serene; a shining white platform over the still sunken ship which lays in 40ft. of water. The Arizona, which still contains the bodies of some 1,000 servicemen, is visited every year by thousands of people.
Yet as I stood there next to a group of Japanese pilgrims who traveled over an ocean to pay their respects. I could feel no animosity or hate towards them. These people were most likely not even born until after the war ended. They could not control the actions of their ancestors any more than I can control the sun. That is why the Arizona memorial is so powerful; it is a place for building bridges and healing the divide between American and Japanese.
What is it about these ground zeros that are different? Is either more sacrosanct than the other? Is the Arizona different because it is something tangible that you can clearly look down and reflect upon? Is it because we won a war with a clearly defined enemy?
The New York Ground Zero is still a gaping hole in the ground. New York was once the place that people from Europe came to become Americans, to be free. Songs were written about coming to America and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. It is a scar on a great city that is the idealistic center of America and how peoples of different cultures can live together in one place.
Ground zero is a scar whose repair has been plagued by construction delays; turf wars between agencies and constant redesign. There is no place at ground zero to reflect and build bridges between the Arab and American cultures. Currently, the reconstruction is expected to be finished in 2037. Almost every planned building but one has been delayed, according to an interview 60 minutes did with the current head of the Port Authority of New York.
So why is it when members of New York’s Muslim demographic, who want to start the process of bridge building in this damaged community, are responded to with utter contempt and vitriol? Are they not allowed to feel shame and disgrace for the actions of people they had no control over?
What happens when the reconstruction at Ground Zero is completed and a person who is Muslim or is of Arabic descent opens a coffee shop or moves his/her company into one of the new trade towers? Are we as Americans going to hold a grudge in our hearts and protest them just as hard as we have protested the Park 51 community center, which is just two blocks away from the site?
Should Americans let the bridge-building start and let these scars eventually heal? Or will we keep picking at the wound and let the tensions around Ground Zero and the other sites become even more inflamed and let the cycle of violence continue even more?
President Obama touched upon this in his weekly radio address which addressed 9/11 and everything that has happened since that day.
“This is a time of difficulty for our country.” said the President, “and it is often in such moments that some try to stoke bitterness – to divide us based on our differences, to blind us to what we have in common. But on this day, we are reminded that at our best, we do not give in to this temptation. We stand with one another. We fight alongside one another. We do not allow ourselves to be defined by fear, but by the hopes we have for our families, for our nation, and for a brighter future.”
These are things to possibly reflect upon this Saturday as we come to the ninth anniversary of 9/11. But we should never fail to remember on that day nine years ago, we were united as a country in mourning and with a shared purpose: to bring those who attacked us to justice.
It is time to move beyond petty and pointless arguments and, once again as a nation, finish healing and soar even greater heights.