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Presented September 11, 2016, by Rev. Krista Taves
Listen to a recording of "Reviewing the 9/11
31:20 minutes - 28.7 MB - Reviewing the 9/11 Attacks .mp3 file.
The central task of religious community is to unveil the bonds that bind each to all. There is a connectedness, a relationship discovered among the particulars of our lives and the lives of others. Once felt, it inspired us to act for justice.
It is the church that assures us that we are not struggling for justice on our own, but as members of a larger community. The religious community is essential, for alone our vision is too narrow to see all that must be seen, and our strength too limited to do all that must be done. Together, our vision widens and our strength is renewed.
- Mark Morrison Reed
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, let our country awake.
- Rabindranath Tagore, Adapted.
Give us a peace equal to the war
Or else our souls will be unsatisfied,
And we will wonder what we have fought for
And why the many died.
Give us a peace of accepting every challenge -
The challenge of the poor, the black, of all denied,
The challenge of the vast colonial world
That long has had so little justice by its side.
Give us a peace that dares us to be wise.
Give us a peace that dares us to be strong.
Give us a peace that dares us still uphold
Throughout the peace our battle against wrong.
Give us a peace that is not cheaply used,
A peace that is no clever scheme,
A people's peace for which men can enthuse,
A peace that brings reality to our dream.
Give us a peace that will produce great schools -
As the war produced great armament,
A peace that will wipe out our slums -
As war wiped out our foes on evil bent.
Give us a peace that will enlist
A mighty army serving human kind,
Not just an army geared to kill,
But trained to help the living mind.
An army trained to shape our common good
And bring about a world of brotherhood.
- Langston Hughes.
I don't know what to think about the fact that it's been 15 years since the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. News headlines tell us that we have reached a milestone. We now have the first high school freshmen class that wasn't alive for 9/11. They have no recollection of that pivotal moment in American life that is burned into so many of our memories.
I imagine what it must have felt like if you were alive during World War 2, or Vietnam or the Cold War and to realize that there is a new generation that does not share the collective memories that have shaped you and your peers. And not only do they not have any direct memory of it, they build new ideas around that experience that are really different from yours. I don't know what this new generation will make of 9/11 and what came after, but I'm looking forward to seeing what they do because I'm pretty sure that just like Baby Boomers had a very different take on World War II and Gen Xers have a very different take on Vietnam, the next generation will do their own thing with 9/11 and I think that could be a good thing.
We need some fresh eyes, because for those of us who experienced 9/11, either in person or over the TV screens, I think some of us are at a loss with what to do with our memories. We are tired, perhaps, of struggling with the legacy that we know the generations after us are going to have to struggle with too. The story of 9/11 is a hard one to tell, not just because of what happened that day, which was a nightmare, but because of what happened after, what our nation chose to do with its grief and anger and loss.
I remember exactly where I was when I learned of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers and exactly where I was when the second plane hit, and exactly where I was when each of the Towers collapsed. Like so many people was glued to the TV for days, listening to witnesses, watching live footage, seeing the collapse of the towers. And I remember saying to myself, "Please let the attackers not be Radical Muslim terrorists." You see, the first war of my generation, Gen X, was Desert Storm. I was so scared of another war in the Middle East.
But until there were answers, the love began to pour out for the country and for New York City and Washington D.C.,for first responders, health care workers, victims, families. Kindness and softness was in the air. Rev. Robert Hardies, the Senior Minister of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Washington D.C. says of that time, "I saw the people of my city - my nation - treat each other with such tenderness, compassion and respect . . . I felt such a palpable sense of solidarity and common purpose with my fellow citizens . . . I . . . felt the world offer its warm wishes to our nation."
And for me, that softness gave me hope. Whoever did this, I hoped, would be unsuccessful in making us a more afraid, violent reactionary people.
Then it was announced that attackers were jihadist extremists, and my heart broke, not because I had any softness for the individuals who committed the attack, that was too hard, but because I feared for Muslims in America, I feared for ordinary people the Middle East, I feared what those in power would do, I feared for those who serve in the military. My heart broke because the kindness and softness, the unity and common purpose, seemed to melt away and turn into anger and a hunger for retribution tinged with the veneer of racism and xenophobia. Acts of violence against Muslim Americans increased.
I saw in the chemical laden dust that settled over New York City, that surely contained the ashes of the dead, not only the death of innocent people, but also centuries of European and American colonialist engagement in the Middle East which led to deep sustained legitimate resentments that fuel the extremism that now targets us. This is not something we heard in any of the mainstream 9/11 coverage, and certainly not something many had the courage to say in those first raw moments, for fear of being seen as betraying those who died and justifying the attacks.
And indeed, our political leaders went down the path of war and partisanship grew stronger, and thousands of people around the world took to the streets in the fall of 2002, trying to stop the invasion of Iraq. They knew that just as the 9/11 attacks did nothing to unravel centuries of western oppression, neither would American aggression bring back the dead or the security that had been punctured by three planes, nor would it end terrorism. Invading Iraq would lead to a destabilized Middle East, further radicalization, more terrorist attacks. They were ignored.
Do you see why it's hard to reflect on 9/11? More than 5000 American troops and more than 100 000 Iraqis died. Iraq remains unstable. Afghanistan is struggling. Syria erupted into Civil War, we have the largest refugee population ever since the end of World War II and we have ISIS. All of this has happened, in part, because our country chose war as the response to 9/11.
This is what I think about as a new generation of young people comes of age. I wonder how we prepare them for the wars they might be asked to fight in, or the choices they will make about who is considered worthy of American compassion, how we explain to them a presidential election with a candidate who espouses unapologetic hatred, racism, sexism, and xenophobia and who would deport millions of people and close immigration doors to desperate refugees, many of whom are victims of terror themselves.
As Unitarian Univeralists, committed to justice, equity and compassion and human relations, to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, to the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, to the interdependent web of all existence, it is important to tell our children the truth of what happened on that day. When they are old enough, which those freshmen certainly are, we can watch the footage of that day with them. We can show them personal testimonies, the raw stories before politics got ahold of them and turned them into talking points. We should never forget the real people. And we can tell them our stories, of where we were, what we saw, what we felt.
But these aren't the only stories we should be sharing. Because what happened here happens in other countries everyday. The main targets of terrorism are not westerners but Muslims in the Middle East. A primary reason that extremists choose North American and European targets is to increase hatred of all Muslims so that Muslims wanting to leave, Muslims who have rejected religious extremism and Muslims who want another life will have no where to go. The goal of ISIS is total political dominance in the Middle East. Terrorizing Muslims, ensuring they are unwelcome in the west, is part of achieving that goal.
We need to teach our children to never turn away from the humanity of another. We and them need to hear the stories of other mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and first responders and religious leaders who don't look like us or talk like us but mourn like us, cry like us and yearn for peace like us. Our stories are one. Let's anchor ourselves in the common human story, keep our hearts and our doors open to others who are being terrorized by the same extremists that we fear. This will help us and our children make decisions not based on fear or judgment, but compassion and reason. I also believe it will help us and our children to be less manipulated by racist and Islamaphobic sentiments espoused by politicians or the mainstream media.
We also need to teach our children the special responsibility of being a citizen of a superpower. The well being and safety of billions of people is deeply influenced by our foreign policy decisions and by who we elect to sit in the Oval Office. Training our children to understand this will help them to make decisions not based solely on looking inward for what is best for us, but what is best for the world beyond our borders.
We need to help our children look at the different choices we can make when we experience anger and loss. We can help our children understand what trauma looks like and to have a reservoir of tools for when trauma happens, to them as individuals or to us as a nation. After we learned who was responsible for 9/11, we had a range of choices that we could have made through our legitimate anger and almost unbearable loss, and the unfortunately the choice of this country was to channel the heat of the moment into revenge, and hundreds of thousands of innocent people lost their lives because of it.
We need to prepare our children to make wise choices anchored in our values when their anger could take them in a different direction. Even good people can be tempted to betray their core values and to project their pain onto easily identifiable scapegoats. In this country, it was the called the Patriot Act. It still is Guantanamo. The fear of the American people was fed and twisted and compromised the core values of democracy and due process.
We need to teach our children never to abandon their core values, especially in the face of fear and loss. I think about the 1000s of people took the high road on 9/11, risking their lives for each other, waiting for each other before looking for safety, those who went back into burning buildings, firefighters who offered breaths from their own oxygen tanks to those running through the ashes. If those people, our people, in the face of unimaginable destruction, could be more than their fear, don't you think we owe it to them to make the same brave and generous choices?
We need to teach ourselves and our children to recognize feelings of desperation and insecurity as a sign that we need to turn toward each other rather than against each other, withdrawing into reactionary isolationism and scapegoating. When we are frightened, we need each other. We are each other's keepers. We are more than our fear. We can't turn away from the world because the world is us. We can't separate ourselves from the plight of millions of refugees, especially when we are a nation founded and built by refugees. We can't be silent when our Muslim neighbors are being scapegoated, when our Hispanic and Latino neighbors are called rapists and murders and threatened with deportation, when the very legitimate fear of terrorism is once again being twisted to turn us against each other. When we remain silent, terrorism has won.
This is the thing, our safety is not in building walls and closing doors. It's actually the opposite, it's in tearing down walls and opening doors. Closing ourselves off is exactly what the terrorists want, they want our fear to define us and to blind us to each other's humanity. When that happens, the terror wins.
So on this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, let us recommit ourselves to a framework of compassion anchored in a higher moral ground or freedom, justice and compassion. This is how we honor those who died in 9/11 and the families who still grieve them. This is how we honor our men and women in uniform who have served dutifully even as many questioned the reasons they were sent in harm's way. And ultimately, this is how we honor our children.
May the spirit be with you and yours. Amen and blessed be.
May the love which overcomes all differences, which heals all wounds, which puts to flight all fears, which reconciles all who are separated, be in us and among us now and always.
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home Page.
The list of Selected Sermons.