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Published: Saturday, 9/7/2002

Saturday essay: 9/11 takes Americans back to their roots

BY DAVID W. ANDERSEN

A year later! Hardly anything more needs to be said. The ground is cleared but never will the memory be lost. It is indelibly imprinted on every American's soul, forever etched upon our psyche.

After 9/11 there was a burst of patriotism. Everybody bought flags, wore them on the lapels of their suits or the collars of their dresses, taped them to their windows, and hoisted them on newly built flag poles. The flags still fly, but the car flags and flag pins are less visible. Yet, I believe there is a patriotism that remains that is strong, healthy, and new to us.

In the aftermath of 9/11 we rediscovered our singing voice as Americans. Every patriotic hymn was sung, and many of them brought a lump to our throat and tears to our eyes. We have regained some of our composure, but we are still singing hymns that express our ideals and gratitude.

A year later this patriotic gratitude is revealed in how we perceive workers, especially firefighters and police officers. We have come to recognize anew what an honored profession it is to be a public servant.

I think this respect has been extended to all workers we once again recognize as the backbone of our country's success and dignity. There are more cheers for the common laborer, the anonymous postal employee, the factory worker, repair persons, and highway and rail workers.

One of the most surprising aspects that arose out of 9/11 has been in our attitudes toward the Islamic religion. I was fearful there might be a backlash of angry citizens indicting Islam and seeking revenge against all Muslims. It never happened. From the very beginning, modeled by religious and political leaders, Americans were careful not to make wholesale accusations against an entire religion or a people who held to that religion.

Instead, what I heard were people wanting to know. They confessed ignorance of even the most rudimentary fundamentals of Islam. Americans became a people on a quest. They wanted to learn about Islam. Books on the religion appeared on bestseller lists. Seminars, classes, and lectures were organized and continue to be offered. In my own church, they recognized our woeful lack of knowledge not only about Islam but all other religions except Christianity and have through the summer offered a video series on the six major religions of the world.

From this quest to know, Americans have learned to be more discriminating in their condemnation of who was responsible for the September attacks. I have also not been aware of a national or even regional boycott of Arab-American-owned businesses, especially restaurants, which is where I might have noticed any such movement. In fact, I have seen the reverse, where people have gone out of their way to show support by continuing to patronize locally owned Arab-American businesses.

Of course, within this year that began with the attack on the World Trade Center, a symbol of our financial dominance in the world, has come the collapse of some of these financial markets. The largest bankruptcies in American history were filed this year, and it appears some of the blame belongs to corporate executives motivated by expediency and excessive greed. Their actions damaged the image of corporate America, but perhaps their misguided priorities helped us reconsider our own priorities.

Perhaps we also placed too much emphasis on getting rich. We lost our sense of citizenship and defined being an American by what we owned and our individualism: 9/11 has restored a sense of community to our lives.

Our place in the world isn't ultimately based on our wealth. It is our conviction that “all men [women] are created equal.” This is our gift to the world and to civilization. As best we can, we are still learning what that means.

The terrorists were so wrong when they flew the hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in western Pennsylvania. They thought they were striking at the heart of America. Maybe for awhile we thought so too, but over the course of this last year we have come to realize anew there is a spirit called America and its heart is in the soul of each American. That spirit hasn't been taken from us but has been awakened.

I believe we are more patriotic as we approach the anniversary of 9/11, but it is a more sophisticated patriotism. It is not a blind patriotism that was expressed on the bumper stickers of several years ago that read “My country right or wrong.” This is a patriotism of the soul. It carries great depth of feeling, but it is also an inquisitive and searching patriotism that seeks both fairness and conviction. I think it reflects more the patriotism of our nation when once before we were under attack on our own shores, the period of the Revolution and those who crafted the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

David W. Anderson is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo. He lives in Holland.



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