Fifteen Years

I wrote the first draft of this on Sunday, September 11. Normally I write, edit, and publish in the space of a few hours at most, but I decided to hold off on posting this that day. I wanted to give myself time to reflect, and to let a few others read it and give me their thoughts. I really wanted to make sure I was communicating clearly, and that the message that is most important is the thing that’s getting through. I’ve really questioned whether I should publish it at all, but I—and those I shared it with—think it is an important perspective to share. I hope I am able to effectively communicate the way I see these things.

So you’re probably aware it’s September 11. Fifteen years on, it seems like much of the internet is paying tribute in some way. Honestly, I’m pretty tired this weekend and don’t really feel like writing right now, but as we were praying for the families of the victims both before church as the worship/production team, and again at the end of the service with the entire congregation, I found myself thinking about it and feeling like maybe I should chime in with my perspective, which—as with most things—is a bit different from the average American’s.

As I said, many, many people today have already called that day a tragedy, and prayed for the families of victims, first responders, and others affected. I agree with all of them, but I’m not writing to say what has been said a lot today already. What struck me today is what’s happened in the fifteen years since. How the world has changed. The loss of thousands of lives that day was tragic, but that tragedy has rippled across the years, in many more thousands of lives lost, in the way people think, and in the way people treat those around them. And frankly I think that is just as tragic if not more so.

You may be aware I grew up in the Muslim part of the world, but we happened to be back in the States in September 2001. By the time we went back a year later, air travel and airport security had tightened up like never before. The US had sent troops into Afghanistan, which affected that entire region, including where we lived. And Americans had become far more suspicious and fearful of the rest of the world, particularly Muslims—a trend that has only continued in the decade and a half since.

Since that day my family and I have been torn between two worlds—the country my passport says I’m from and where I’ve found myself living for the past six years now, and the country that at least a part of me still calls home all these years later, even though most Americans seem to think we’re crazy to have lived there. And I’ve seen a lot of misunderstanding, distrust, even hatred from both sides towards the other. Many Americans now equate Islam with small, right-wing, militant groups of Muslims, assuming all Muslims are out to kill them. And many Muslims see America as the country that has deployed troops and drone strikes against much of the Muslim world—killing their friends and loved ones, civilians who happen to be near the militants.

But the stark, night and day difference is that the Muslims who we lived among never once directed their anger at America towards us, but instead welcomed us into their homes, fed us, called us guests in their country. How many Americans who claim to follow Jesus have done the same for the Muslims who live among us and feel more isolated and vulnerable than ever right now?

In the fifteen years since 9/11, I’ve seen the world rally around not only New York, but Paris, Haiti, Japan, and other places where tragedy has struck in the form of either violence or natural disasters. And yet when disasters or extremists strike the Muslim world,1 the rest of the world either (a) doesn’t notice, or (b) shrugs and says “They’re all terrorists anyways.”

Or worse, expresses the sentiment that this is somehow God’s judgment on the unbelievers.

I can’t really think of anything that makes me more angry than reading that. (Though maybe it was my fault for being in the YouTube comments.)

When we say that, how are we any better than the fundamentalists we fear, yelling “God is great; death to the infidel”?

And now, to top it all off, we have running for president a man who is not only praised for his blatant racism, but has built a platform that takes this fear of the outsider to its natural conclusion—throwing out foreigners, building a wall, separating ourselves from the rest of the scary, scary world, and punishing people for things they had nothing to do with, things done by others who claim to follow the same beliefs. What’s shocking is not that such a person exists. What’s frightening and disturbing is that enough of the country agrees with him that he is one of two people with a shot at the White House in two months. I hope to God this country is not so hateful and fearful as to let him get there. I hope we all realize the danger of electing such a person and vote for someone else.

I’m realizing now this has become way more politically charged than I first intended when I sat down to write what was meant to be a tribute—not just to the violence of fifteen years ago, but to the war-torn and distrustful world that has resulted from that in the years since. I meant this to be more wholesome, more contemplative. But I guess as I got writing, a lot has come out that I’ve felt the need to say for a long time now. I hope what I’ve said isn’t too distasteful on this day, though it almost certainly will offend or even anger some people.

But for those of you still reading, join me in praying—yes, for those affected by the attack of fifteen years ago, and for the people who continue to be misled to think these things are right, but also for those who face persecution simply because they are Muslim or appear to be. And ultimately, for peace, for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done. For love and reconciliation to win out over fear and hatred.

Come, Lord Jesus

  1. I feel the need to point out that terrorists have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims worldwide. At the same time, most mass shootings within the US—all of which are acts of terror—have been at the hands of non-immigrant Americans. Though the media seems to reserve the label of terrorism for violence committed by Muslims.
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