I was asleep when the planes struck the Twin Towers, but I did watch as they collapsed. I remember keeping a watchful eye on every plane I saw in the sky that morning as I rode the bus to school. My eighth grade year had started just the week before, which means we were just getting into the groove of a new school year when a major, nationwide speed bump slowed things down. Seeing the panic-stricken, ash-covered, and bloodied faces running away from the collapsing buildings is still fresh in my memory. As we’ve heard a thousand times already, I will never forget September 11th, 2001.
And yet I can’t forget how we responded. Initially it was the right kind of response; mourning the lost loved ones and reaching out to those who needed somebody. We came together as a nation. As was expected, we were eager for justice; we wanted those responsible for such a heinous crime to be held accountable. But, as I recall, our heart for justice was quickly morphed into a thirst for vengeance.
It’s natural for humans to crave vengeance when they suffer something terrible. But simply because something is natural doesn’t mean it is right. When the news channels started reporting rumors of Muslim terrorists and pictured random individuals wearing turbans in New York City, I tagged along with the sentiment. I quickly began to believe that every turban-bearer was somehow involved with the terrorist organization that dismantled the Twin Towers. I took pride in the American flag and sang along with Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue. And later that year when I became a Christian, I started to believe that God’s hand was helping America bring these Muslims to justice.
I’m not faulting our pride as an American nation or even how we felt when the Towers fell. What I am pointing out, though, is that we claim, in general, to be a Christian nation and yet we very quickly – myself included – sought an eye for an eye. In the years following the 9/11 attacks, we took more than an eye for an eye if you count the numbers. Our media painted this American mythology that required the Christian to defeat the Muslim, which seems to echo from Christianity’s history. Believing ourselves to be the more developed nation, we proved our humanity was no better than those who hijacked planes on that September day.
Am I anti-America? No. My brother will vouch for me; I love this nation. And that’s why I’m writing this rather critical response; I believe this nation can prove itself better than our conduct in the wake of 9/11. I believe that we can find a way – especially within our news media – to isolate the group of terrorists who organize terrible crimes against innocent people as a small minority of the overall Muslim population. I believe that we can truly come to accept our American identity for all of its diversity – not just the picture we want to see.
It wasn’t for a very long time until my sentiment towards Muslims and the people of the Middle East changed. No longer was I seeing an enemy that my nation needed to destroy; I saw a people needing the liberating love that is taken for granted so often in the States. I saw a people no different than myself and what I could have been if the circumstances had been different. I saw the same humanity in them as I saw in the people around me… and in the mirror.
My spiritual convictions tell me that there will be no peace on earth without Jesus. If our nation claims to be a Christian nation, then perhaps it is best we turn to Christ before we respond with emotions. In Christ’s time, there was a very similar belief about in the Roman Empire that there is in today’s America; that peace will come after the violent battles are won. Let’s see, that was 2,000 years ago. How’s it working out for us?…
Remembering September 11th and what others did to us is easy. But for this week, starting today, I’m trying to remember how I treated them in response. I’m trying to see if I reacted differently than them. I’m trying to see how I was Christ-like in my response, but honestly, I can’t. Why? Because I was not Christ-like in how I talked about, treated, and even thought of Muslims, people from the Middle East, or really anyone who believed differently than me. Knowing that I was not the man I should have been then can be useful today so that I might be closer to Jesus if or when the next traumatic event occurs.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” Matthew 5:9