On Sunday, exactly a decade will have passed since Al Qaeda terrorists piloted and crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field on a cloudless, blue-sky, sunny day in September, killing nearly 3,000 Americans.
Sept. 11, 2001 marked the beginning of an era in which our government launched the longest wars in American history, wiretapped innocent civilians and squandered our budget surplus. Fear of another terrorist attack, either by homegrown or foreign enemies, made many of us fear each other and re-elect a swaggering, lying Texan who couldn’t string coherent English sentences together, find Osama bin Laden or weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Sept. 11, 2001 was the Tuesday of my third week of my first semester at SUNY New Paltz. I had come back to my cramped, two-person dorm room after my morning microeconomics class to the news that was unfolding only an hour away. My third roommate turned on my small 1980s-era TV that I had unearthed from my parent’s garage and brought to college because a few channels were better than none. We watched as New Yorkers jumped from the burning towers, instantly knowing how desperate the situation was. I later learned that four men from my hometown of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., never made it home to their families that evening.
9/11 altered my path in profound ways, large and small. I had always followed politics and current events, but Sept. 11 firmly pushed me into majoring in International Relations because I had a need to understand my country’s position in international politics and the events that led to this day. I came of age in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11th, during the Bush administration while studying at a proudly progressive liberal arts college. So I became a feminist activist, concerned with stopping imperialistic, preemptive wars and the domestic war on women’s bodies and rights.
Rallying against the impending war in Iraq, feminist campus organizing, marching in Washington D.C. for women’s lives and supporting marriage equality (before the rest of NY state caught up) – somehow I know it goes back to 9/11. To that day when I absolutely realized as an 18 year-old college student that I had to pay attention to what was going on and to actively be engaged in it. That I wasn’t immune to terrorism and war and that my civil liberties could be curtailed under the guise of securing our homeland. I realized that I deeply despised the in-your-face, flag-flying nationalism that reeked of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in the days following Sept. 11. I suddenly saw that for many people, the ideas of liberty, equality and freedom of religion only applied to white Christian Americans. (Cue the ugly Americans…)
Ten years later, I have the privilege of marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in Harrisburg, Pa., and Baltimore, Md., with Clergy Beyond Borders, an interfaith nonprofit. I’ll travel with the group for two weeks starting Sept. 11th on a multi-state and city tour (“Caravan for Reconciliation”) across America to spread the message that fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam promotes extremism in America and abroad. I am eager to hear the coalition of Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy men and women speak about creating bridges of understanding between these faiths and respecting religious pluralism in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Disclaimer: I am spiritual, but not a religious person. I am a lapsed Catholic who is very aware of how patriarchal religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam have been used to oppress women. I do have respect for different faiths if they are used for good. I greatly admire clergy and persons of faith if they are instruments of peace, love and equality. That is why I will be with Clergy Beyond Borders on Sept. 11, 2011, because the organization’s work toward peace is still crucial in our post-9/11 United States of America where many are still suspicious of Muslims, foreigners and each other. I’d much rather be part of a force of understanding than one of divisiveness, anger and hatred -wouldn’t you?
(Clergy Beyond Borders will blog, post Facebook updates and Tweet throughout the Caravan of Reconciliation from Sept. 11 – 25. Follow them! For a list of cities on the Caravan of Reconciliation, visit http://clergybeyondborders.wordpress.com)