WATERTOWN — Passions raised as a result of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, bore testimony to the pain Americans felt at seeing our country subjected to such barbarity.
To have nearly 3,000 lives ended in this manner was unacceptable. Of course, the U.S. government would answer the demand for justice.
But justice wasn’t necessarily the objective of those who made the most noise. The tragedy of 9/11 brought out the worst in some Americans at times. I witnessed a prime example in its aftermath.
The suburban Chicago region where I worked that year had a large Muslim population. A prominent mosque had attracted worshippers to the surrounding neighborhoods for decades.
This served as another patch in the quilt of U.S. cultural diversity. Relations could be strained at times, but things for the most part remained peaceful.
However, residents infuriated by the attacks had little interest in the notion of a melting pot. The evening of Sept. 11, a large crowd of them had gathered along a main roadway to express their anger.
Given the horrific events that day, this was understandable. Numerous demonstrations took place all across the country.
But these people didn’t merely want to display their outrage at what happened. They began moving toward the mosque to intimidate the Muslims living in the region.
Police officers made their presence known to control the situation. Thankfully, this helped to avoid any violence. Members of the enraged mob eventually dispersed.
The next day, leaders of the mosque organized a news conference. They pleaded for peace and understanding. Local Muslims also opposed the terrorist attacks and wanted to maintain the good rapport they had long sought with the broader community.
My heart sank while watching this event. One of the leaders of the mosque stood near a U.S. flag making the case for what loyal Americans the Muslims there had always been.
Yes, radical Muslims had carried out the attacks on 9/11. It’s also true that extremist forms of Islam throughout the world incite this kind of hatred toward Western societies.
This has led to atrocious acts of global terrorism. It’s also turned some Islamic nations into violent tyrannies, which oppress their own citizens beyond belief. This development continues to be a major source of concern for all who value freedom around the world.
But the Muslims in this suburban Chicago community had nothing to do with the plot to hijack planes and fly them into well-known buildings. They weren’t the ones funding terrorist activities across the globe. They didn’t deserve the scorn that others in the area had directed toward them.
Those who stormed their way toward the local mosque wanted to inflict something of the terror that many Americans felt watching the tragedies unfold on Sept. 11. They wanted the Muslims to experience the dread that the 9/11 jihadists forced upon us that day.
The problem is that nothing good would come of this. The need to induce fear in others betrays a desire to control them.
I appreciated the anger that many Americans expressed. There was no justification for the atrocities carried out on 9/11, and the nation needed to do something to thwart global terrorism.
However, some Americans sought to become symbols of the cruelty we claimed to abhor. It proved counterproductive to our government’s quest to liberate other countries and help them embrace democracy.
Few incidents shed more light on this distorted mindset than the protests over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.
In 2010, people across the country pitched a fit when they learned about plans by a Muslim to construct an Islamic community center in Manhattan. They strongly objected to the notion of siting a mosque at the area where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Ramping up the fear it continually incites among its viewers, Fox News exploited their grossly misguided views on the Ground Zero Mosque.
First of all, no mosque would have been built at Ground Zero. The proposed community center would have been two blocks away.
And if you’ve ever strolled around that section of Manhattan, you’d realize that any building two blocks away might as well be located in another country. The huge structures directly in front of you block everything behind them—even more so, buildings two blocks away. No one visiting the National September 11 Memorial & Museum would take any notice of an Islamic community center so far removed from that site.
Then there’s the ridiculous argument that a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero would be offensive to the memory of those who died on 9/11.
Really? What about all the Muslims who died in the World Trade Center and those who were killed trying to save other people? Shouldn’t their loved ones have a place in which to pray near the site where they perished?
Will those who made this assertion also advocate removing all Christian churches from Salem, Mass.? Wouldn’t such structures offend the memory of all the witches who were persecuted and murdered by Christians in 1692?
How about getting rid of any U.S. government buildings near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation? American military troops massacred about 300 indigenous people near Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. Do U.S. government facilities dishonor the memories of these individuals?
Other critics argued that the Islamic community center would become a recruiting station for terrorists. OK, based on what evidence? The mere fact that it would be operated by Muslims?
The planned Islamic community center was designed to be a place where people of different faith traditions could interact and build bridges. But falsehoods spread about it turned the idea into a debacle steeped in bigotry. So much for America the beautiful.
What’s perplexing is the fact that other structures near Ground Zero already served as worship sites for Muslims. It never dawned on opponents of the community center that mosques were already present in the immediate area. These buildings could just as easily train violent jihadists — or not, as it turned out.
Irrational fear and acts of intimidation against Muslims hurt efforts to help Islamic cultures reject theocratic authoritarianism. On the one hand, we’re asking Muslims in these nations to trust us and adopt a form of government similar to ours.
But on the other hand, we’re displaying the excesses of a free society fueled by animosity and misinformation. Why should Muslims in other countries replicate our way of life when we’re showing them our worst, including a rejection of the cherished principle of religious liberty? We’ve made this much harder for ourselves for 20 years, but few Americans seem to care.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com. They also may follow him on Twitter: @WDT_OpEd.