While reflecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I wondered how much we have learned from the aftermath of that day.
So, while dropping a package at the local post office, I waited outside to ask passersby the following question: “Why did the criminals on 9/11 drive planes into the towers and Pentagon?” Of the people I asked, their answers ranged from the mantric “they hate American freedom” to “It’s their religion.”
Twenty years later, none were aware of the three reasons stated by Osama Bin Laden. These stated reasons are worth reflecting on, even though it might be considered in some quarters to be un-American to ask what role we may have played in it. American honor reflexively mandates immediate retribution by “bombing people into the stone age.” I agonized over the responses I got and tried to reassure myself that it will be our youth who will recognize truth and will lead us forward; only to remember that many of our war-thirsty politicians grew up in the 1960s during the youth-led peace movement.
Having seen the rapid social awakening of our younger generation over the last few years, I still have reason to be hopeful. They have witnessed the effects of unbridled capitalism leading to economic depression. They took to the streets as politicians hindered passing simple lifesaving gun laws. They watched in real-time the effects of systemic oppression through racially biased law enforcement. They listened to Black, white, and brown scholars who unearthed the unredacted history of American slavery and native American extermination, all while watching current-day white supremacy attempt to bury it again. Yet do they know enough about our history of colonization and foreign intervention to be able to reject its continuing manifestation of never-ending invasions and failed international policies?
The last few weeks have witnessed images of fleeing and terrified Afghans with echo chambers from the left and right opining about how either bungled or heroic the withdrawal was. All of which detracts from our reflecting on how disastrous the entire war on terror has actually been. Politicians, some of who have even served as soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq, also focused their criticism on the withdrawal because understandably, it’s difficult for those who served to shine a light on the lies that had led them to join in on the 20 years of bloodshed.
Our youth are struggling with their own conflicting emotions over these pivotal issues. Having pride in their country’s ideals on the one hand, and an increasing disdain for how we behave and how we are led on the other. How does an American youth process and deal with the knowledge of the staggering death and displacement of innocents worldwide, from Vietnam to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Sudan? How will they heal the divisions within their own families also caused by those same lies? Are they now knowledgeable and courageous enough to resist those who will ask them to fear yet another boogieman of our own making?
Bin Ladin asked for America to end the occupation of Muslim lands, to stop installing and supporting dictators that oppress their people, and to stop the oppression of Palestinians. After over 20 years, are we able to recognize these requests despite coming from the mouth of a criminal, as also being congruent with our own American values? Or do we continue to double down on our historical failures?
We are indeed a nation of citizens with large hearts and even larger potential. Yet to correct the trajectory of our collective future, I can only hope that today’s youth become equipped to answer these and other questions honestly and openly. They must be willing to understand that national pride does not come from ignoring your parents’ mistakes, but rather from the courage to call them out on it.
Nashwan Hamza was born in Iraq and has lived on the Monterey Peninsula for 60 years. He is a founding member of the Islamic Networks Group which continues to educate public and private institutions on Islam and has worked in Arab-Jewish dialogue. He continues to speak to community groups and is active with the Community of Interfaith Colleagues.
Contributed by local news sources