One of the saddest anniversaries on the nation's calendar falls today, expressed as always in a grim shorthand: 9/11. The ninth anniversary of that terrible day is melancholy beyond our remembrance of the more than 3,000 innocents murdered by terrorists.
As if that were not tragic enough, this anniversary is also a requiem for “United We Stand,” the national sentiment of a troubled hour, around which Americans rallied in immediate response to the attack.
On Sept. 17, 2001, with the Twin Towers a ruin, the Pentagon a wreck, and a field in western Pennsylvania horribly scarred, President George W. Bush went to the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. He made something very clear: “These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that.”
Days before, Mr. Bush had stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center with bullhorn in hand. He rightly promised vengeance on those who had attacked us.
But at the mosque, he delivered a postscript that named both the people who were responsible and the people who were not — the Muslim citizens in our midst.
He said: “In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”
President Bush can be faulted for his prosecution of the war on terror, but he got that right.
Yet on this anniversary, many Americans have forgotten his wisdom. Too eager to hate and lash out blindly, so many of us refuse to understand.
In New York City, a mosque and cultural center proposed near Ground Zero by a Muslim minister who has helped the U.S. government is portrayed as a radical, because so many people want to believe that all Muslims are evil or at least suspect.
In Florida, the hatred metastasized into a sick parody — a Christian minister threatening to burn Qur'ans. He is no more representative of Christianity than radical Muslims are of Islam. But hate blurs all distinctions, and everybody loses.
Today, tragically, disunited we stand. And somewhere Osama bin Laden is laughing and can't believe his luck.
The al-Qaeda leader has always preached that Islam is being attacked by “crusaders.” As it turns out, there is no shortage of Americans ready to make blanket condemnation of Muslims, to validate his lies and propaganda.
Saturday, present and past dignitaries will join to remember the honored dead of 9/11. Let these shows of unity offer a lesson to Americans — that we cannot conquer hate with hatred, that we honor the memory of the dead best by upholding America's values.
United we must stand.
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