I remember 9/11 with especial clarity because it was the day I came home on the wrong bus. The teachers were upset, we were confused, and perplexed 2nd grader that I was, I sat in the wrong line.
My mother, as any other self respecting parent would have, must have decided that the terrorists had made a special visit to the elementary school to pick up her daughter. By the time I returned home safe and sound – conveniently the driver had once done my route and knew where I lived – she was probably distraught. It was only then that I saw on TV the now iconic image of the two towers crashing down.
For days afterwards, we’d turn on the radio and hear about the towers. Exasperated, not understanding, I asked, “Are they going to talk about this for weeks?”
My mother shook her head. “They’re going to be talking about this for years.”
And so they have, and so they are. For better or for worse, my childhood has been spent growing up in a predominantly post 9/11 world. I listen, I think, and still the perplexed child in me tries to understand.
9/11 was monumental because it showed Americans that we’re not safe, even within our own borders. We saw the first example of this new kind of terrorism, which would become a very real menace. But when I hear 9/11 called the ‘greatest American tragedy’, I can’t always agree.
Tragedies can go many ways. There’s the simple numbers of the death toll. The Civil War has been the war that cost the highest in terms of American lives, and worse, it turned families and friends against each other. Perhaps it was necessary to bring slavery and secession to an end, but I wish it could have been settled peacefully…
Then there are the tragedies where the US strays from the vision it has sworn to uphold. For example, when Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during WWII simply because of their race.
And now, 9/11 is on the verge of fulfilling both sides. Roughly 3000 people died when the towers fell. I don’t mean to demean these deaths. Those people did not deserve to die. Their crime: being born in a country that terrorists didn’t like. If I believed in hallowed ground, that site would be sacred not to some god, but to the individuals of all faiths who died because of a war that wasn’t even theirs. It is now, though.
In the aftermath, especially recently, there’s been an upswing in irrational Islamophobia. This is a serious disconnect. A whole religion did not fly those planes. And yet… we are afraid. Of Muslims, of ‘other’, of everything. Airport security gets more complicated. We become less trustful. If terrorist’s aim is to actually spread terror, as their name implies, they are succeeding.
America has always prided herself on her freedoms. This is why we consider ourselves different from some other nations, that guarantee far less. Now attacks have caused us to turn our backs on what we defend. Demonizing all members of a religion for the actions of a few is eerily parallel – though thankfully not as bad, yet – as killing innocents because you disagree with their government. And that’s why 9/11 may be the greatest tragedy after all.