Opinion: 9/11: That is why we must fight

By ROBERT AZZI

Published: 09-10-2023 6:00 AM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.

...We never turned on the radio – it wasn’t until we got to Exeter and began moving Tamer into his new dorm that we learned of the attacks – it wasn’t until I got home shortly afterward to be with my daughter that I witnessed the towers fall.

Tomorrow, September 11, 2023, is the 22nd remembrance of the terrorist assaults of 9/11, and the above quotation is from one of my columns where I made reference to that heinous attack on the United States of America.

I always have a hard time around 9/11.

This year is no different — in fact, it may be a bit harder, fraught as it is with domestic conflict, confronted as America is by ignorance and prejudice; by communities being fractured along lines of caste, color, ethnicity and religion, some lines not having been drawn since the dark days of Jim Crow and Klan lynchings.

I believe that part of what made America great was gravely wounded that day. True, we had cultural and political differences, but our ability to express them made us more American — we were more free, had more opportunity, less fear, than others. Our ability to live, love, thrive, seemed unlimited and I recognized that as a Muslim I was more free to live a Sharia-compliant life, if I wished, than in any Muslim country I knew.

There was no place I would rather be then. Today, there is no place I’d rather be.

While it is true that in the wake of 9/11 we fought a just war, mobilizing our military forces and collective will to confront Al-Qaeda, and by extension the Taliban, in Afghanistan and destroy their safe havens, it is equally, and alarmingly true, that in its wake, driven by overweening arrogance and imperial hubris we chose to engage in an illegal invasion and war in Iraq, destabilizing the entire Middle East with repercussions that plague us still.

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Repercussions cultural, economic, military, strategic — and political — which plague us still.

Today, realizing how America has failed to fully, even adequately, rise to the complex challenges of the 21st century, we witness that rather than struggle to confront injustice and ease the burdens of the oppressed and shield them from harm’s way, too many Americans have succumbed to the politics of prejudice, exclusion and disenfranchisement rather than rise to the challenge of becoming a diverse, multiethnic-nation where all peoples are created equal.

A nation where, if we fail to rise to the challenge to be our sister’s and brother’s keepers, it will mean that Osama Bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and others will have been successful in challenging John Winthrop’s City on the Hill; will have extinguished Emma Lazarus’ “Lamp beside the Golden Door!”

Today, it’s open season on the Other in America, open season on Jews, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, gender- nonconforming and LGBTQIA+ peoples; open season on any cohort that might rise to challenge American white privilege, might challenge the pernicious political activism that manifests itself today as white Christian nationalism.

It wasn’t just war and hubris that did us in.

It was that in 2008, when an African American man became president, we once again had to endure years of racist and anti-Muslim fear-mongering and divisiveness which was then overlapped from 2011 onward by a narcissistic, race-baiting, xenophobic grifter who convinced many Americans that not only were their resentments and grievances legitimate but that it was okay to act on them.

Act they did, all the way to El Paso, Pittsburg, Buffalo, Charleston, Jacksonville — all the way to January 6, 2021.

All the way even to the U.S. Open where just this week a fan was ejected after German competitor Alexander Zverev objected to hearing an individual in the stands singing “Deutschland über alles,” translated as “Germany above all;” a phrase favored by Hitler and Nazis.

I am not arguing for a world sanitized from conflict and controversy, a world free of offense.

I want to argue for a world where marginalized groups are not denied opportunities to share the American Dream, where all are free to witness beauty.

I believe, as James Baldwin wrote in “Notes of a Native Son,” “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

I believe, as Jon Meacham wrote in “The Soul of America,” that “For all our darker impulses, for all our shortcomings, the experiment begun so long ago, carried out so imperfectly, is worth the fight.”

That is why I write; that is why we must fight.

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