Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Day of Remembrance and Tolerance

It seems strange to suggest that today should be a holiday, for the anniversary of the worst day in American history is certainly nothing to celebrate.

And while Memorial Day would seem to similarly denote a day of solemn commemoration, I don't know that amidst road trips and barbecues too many of us give active thought to remembering and thanking those who gave their lives in service to our country (except those who have lost relatives and friends). 

So not only would it seem improper for 9/11 to be honored as a day where people have fun instead of going to work or school, coming so close on the heels of Labor Day it would be logistically implausible for September 11th to become an official federal holiday, or at least one with real consequence to as opposed to Flag Day or even Veterans Day.

Obviously, even without being specially earmarked, the date 9/11 will always carry forth a mournful resonance. I've never felt the need for a bumper sticker or window decal saying, "We Will Never Forget," as I have never come close to forgetting--nor I imagine have you--the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, the lives lost and where I was when I heard about the first plane having hit, the second plane hitting, the third plane hitting the Pentagon, each of the towers falling and the fourth plane crashing in Pennsylvania.

I didn't know anyone who lost their life that day, although one of the heroes of Flight 93, Todd Beamer--the guy who said, "Are you guys ready? Okay. Let's roll!"--was a poker buddy of a good friend of mine.

(Photo credit: Joe Woolhead - Silverstein Properties, Inc.)
It was as surreal as it was shocking & sad and I doubt that anyone old enough to remember it--and probably many of those who aren't--really need a special notation on the calendar for 9/11 not to forever have the same sort of automatic recognition as January 1, July 4 and December 25.

I also feel that in many ways it's a good thing that, now nine years later, the calendar date of September 11 has regained some semblance of normalcy in terms of our daily lives. I never gave much credence to that "if we stop shopping, the terrorists win" crap, but feel no compunction about planning to see a movie, possibly meeting up with a friend and not treating the day with any acute reverence. The official ceremonies with President Obama at the Pentagon, Vice President Biden in New York and Michelle Obama & Laura Bush (why not W. too?) in Shanksville, PA, will hopefully provide whatever possible further comfort to those who lost loved ones, but I highly doubt I will pay attention to anything more than some sound bites.

Yet while life goes on, so too does considerable bigotry, stupidity and malice.

While I empathize with any victims' families who oppose Park 51--a.k.a. the Ground Zero Mosque--for reasons that are, understandably, likely based more on emotion than logic or constitutional propriety, and respect anyone offering sincere debate and even disapproval, the thought of a new Islamic Community Center with a prayer room (as rendered at left) being built within a similar radius from Ground Zero as a strip club, betting parlor and lingerie store doesn't bother me in the least (and polls have shown a majority of Manhattan residents support it).

What bothers me a whole lot more than the mosque possibly being built is all the venom and inaccuracies being spewed about it. And the whole thing this week about Florida pastor Terry Jones threatening to burn a Koran--it seems to have been called off--has been an absolutely embarrassing disgrace.

Now, lest you think me a latter-day flower child overdosing on political correctness, I am a Jew who knows that there are many people, of myriad religions and even none, who may hate me simply for that reason. I am not ignorant of the fact that Al Qaeda is comprised (exclusively, I think) of Muslims who would seek to harm to me, Jews, Americans and almost any innocent people of the world.

But the truth is also this: To hurt, kill or wish such on any other human being is wrong. Period. And people with such desires are clearly not limited to any race, religion or nationality, nor is there much distinction between having those feelings as "action" vs. "reaction."

So let's not presume anyone feels that way just because they happen to be Arab or Islamic, any more than you can assume all white people would do what Timothy McVeigh did, that all college students aim to replicate the horrific actions of Seung-Hui Cho or Steven Kazmierczak or that German, Italian and Japanese people are intent on wreaking the destruction their countries' high command and armies did in World War II.

And let's try not to ever feel that way ourselves. 

Still, I am not here to preach that we all must love one another. We have our differences and for one reason or another they can cause disdain, often beyond conscious thought. There's a song from the irreverent hit Avenue Q musical called "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," that in offering: "If we all could just admit / That we are racist a little bit / Even though we all know that it's wrong / Maybe it would help us...get along" is as astute as it is funny.

But if universal acceptance, affinity and affection are too much to hope for--though I think there is much to gain from learning about our differences and realizing that they're not all that vast--how about respect and tolerance? If you don't like someone, especially someone who hasn't directly harmed or insulted you, keep your mouth shut.

Why is that so much to ask, and imagine the wonders it could do.

I understand that Presidents and such must often make tough foreign policy choices in the name of national security, and that soldiers during wartime must carry out orders, but even then it's prudent to recall the gloriously sage words of Mahatma Gandhi:

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

So on September 11, 2010, a year before the 10th anniversary of a day no one will ever forget, I am suggesting that whoever is in charge of these things--Obama, Oprah, the people who print calendars, etc.--consider officially commemorating the date as a "Day of Remembrance and Tolerance."

What you'd do on 9/11 would be as up to you as on the other 364 days of any year. But remembering what happened on a sunny morning in 2001 and, at the same time, reminding ourselves to always tolerate--if not quite yet appreciate--all those who don't look, dress or think like us, would be a pretty enlightening way to observe a dark day.


Pertaining to this topic, some might value reading this article about a Muslim woman who created a book showing the many different walks of life among women of her faith who wear headscarves (and who often get hassled for doing so).

And in addition to this song and performance that has always stuck with me since the Tribute To Heroes telecast after 9/11/01, the one below offers some pretty good words to live by:


hoffrey said...

Quick aside if you hit this. I flew out of D.C. last Saturday and was amazed out how 'back to normal' things were. Not sure if that's good or bad. By the way, I'm a friend of Jordan's in Champaign and he linked me your blog. Good writing

Seth Arkin said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. Although normalcy would seem to be the desire, and I don't need to be barraged with "Never Forget" signs, it seems that perhaps the day should be specially designated in some way.