On this seven year anniversary of 9/11 I want don’t want to focus on Muslims. That has been done. Today I want to focus on Americans, and how we as Americans can work together to enhance our national security.
On September 11, 2001 virtually all Americans were bewildered by the depravity of the terror attacks. Many Americans harbored more than a little anger at Muslims.
Americans’ anger at Muslims, both abroad and at home, was an understandable gut reaction to the 9/11 terror attacks. After all, the perpetrators and their leaders cloaked their ruthlessness in Islam, so what else are we to think?
Seven years later we have an enormous wealth of experiences from which to draw lessons for our future. We tried extraordinary renditions. We tinkered with internment. We continue to operate the GITMO military detention facility and we continue to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But alas, the terror threat levels never seem to go down.
One lesson I draw from this is that our security at home cannot be won so long as Americans continue to eye America’s Muslims with suspicion.
Many Americans feel that Muslims do not speak out enough against terrorism. They are wary of Muslims as result.
Pointing out to these folks that Muslims do speak out against terrorism is not the answer. Obviously the message has not reached enough Americans.
It is also not acceptable to say that it is unfair to expect Muslims to explain why terrorism is not condoned by Islam. The men who committed mass murder on 9/11 were Muslims, so Americans of other faiths have a right to seek answers and Muslims have a duty to supply them. If Muslims want to blame some one for this extra duty, blame Osama bin Laden.
But Muslims cannot possible do it alone. There are between 3 to 6 million Muslims among the 300 million people living in America. The only way that one Muslim is going to have any chance of reaching enough people with a personalized message of what Islam really is and what Muslims truly believe is by winning over other Americans who can help carry the message to others.
It’s not about proselytizing. It’s about understanding.
Americans of all faiths need to be proactive. We cannot afford to let anger and distrust keep us from knowing one another.
There are real consequences of distrust among neighbors. For example, in Chicago, the FBI has been working with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago to foster a partnership between law enforcement and Muslims. Why, because Muslims are a vital resource in ferreting out would-be terrorists hiding under the guise of Islam.
But these efforts are often stymied on the street. How? Neighbors see these exotic looking people with strange names moving in next door. Neither side ever makes much of an effort to reach out to the other. Soon a call is made to the FBI. The FBI says they must investigate all such tips.
That means FBI agents end up knocking on doors of law abiding Muslims who happen to wear beards and dress in ethnic attire. The agents have done some background research on the person or persons to be questioned. They talk to these Muslims and conclude that it is a false alarm. Case closed.
When this happens a lot, people start talking and a sense of victimization develops. Muslims begin to feel, perhaps rightfully so, that they are being targeted because of their religion.
These folks are not going to be keen to cooperate with law enforcement. It is not out of spite, but out of fear of entrapment.
We need to get beyond it. On this seventh anniversary of 9/11, Americans need to commit to developing personal relationships with others with whom they do not share a lot in common.
Since September 11 there have been many “one and done” bridge building and interfaith events that bring a lot of people together. Many good people come together, lots of good words are shared and the event is done. There is no follow up. In many instances those who come are often the converted – people who already work on building relationships.
Still, these events are meaningful because they show us that different people can come together.
But we need to do more. Real security starts in our neighborhoods and it requires personal relationships among neighbors. All Americans share this responsibility.
Because we are a diverse society, our neighbors and co-workers may not look like us, they may not eat what we eat, nor pray as we pray. Guess what? These are precisely the folks with whom we need to connect.
Relying on pundits and politicians to tell us who is good or who believes what is foolish. We need to make these judgments ourselves. These judgments must be based on our personal contact with those we mean to judge.
We need to meet and relate with our neighbors one on one. We need to decide for ourselves, based on our personal contact, whom we can trust and with whom we can build our communities.
It may sound hokey but there is no substitute for knowing someone on a person level.