Sept. 11: Ninth anniversary clouded by anger and division
Quran burning, mosque debates overshadow this year’s observances
Laura Berman / The Detroit News
On the day we should be coming together, we’re instead torn apart.
On this ninth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, the ground is shifting around ground zero.
Instead of marking a day that evokes memories and honors almost 3,000 lives lost, Sept. 11 has become the fulcrum for political strife and animosity.
Nowhere is this truer than Metro Detroit, where Muslim leaders express shock at the new chill in the political air. “The definition of what it means to be American has been lost,” said Osama Siblani, the Dearborn-based publisher of the Arab-American News. “I see today a rise of hate.”
Even so, a diverse coalition is coming together in Metro Detroit begging for “consideration, civility and respect,” as the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit put it. On Friday, hundreds honored fallen rescuers and victims and urged unity at Campus Martius and an interfaith prayer service in Detroit led by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron.
They’re competing with national airwaves and a blogosphere that crackle with accusations and insults, the language of political advantage.
In Florida, the mustachioed pastor of a flyspeck congregation has been elevated to the attention of cable talk shows, Gen. David Petraeus and even President Obama. Why? Because the minister, Terry Jones, threatened to burn copies of the Quran unless a Manhattan imam calls off efforts to build an Islamic community center near ground zero.
The Muslim community is feeling embattled, local leaders say. “Our youth are feeling self-conscious. My son asks, ‘Why would someone want to burn the Quran?’ ” said Dawud Walid, the Michigan director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations
In Detroit this week, Muslim-baiting blogger and lawyer Debbie Schlussel filed a federal discrimination lawsuit pitting two Christian teachers against the Muslim Dearborn principal who fired them — alleging religious discrimination. Muslim leaders, meanwhile, have urged followers to tone down celebrations today of Eid-al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.
“People are looking at the divisions that separate each other,” said Betsy Kellman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that monitors hate speech and crime.
Perhaps, too, intolerance is an easy and emotional response to an event that changed America’s view of itself and its relationship to the world. With one inconceivable and audacious act, a band of extremists from a remote corner of the world shattered the self-assurance of the world’s most powerful nation.
Throughout Metro Detroit today, a smattering of events pay tribute to the lives lost and the changes wrought by the destruction of nine years ago today, when airplanes separately slammed into the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon.
At Campus Martius on Friday, Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee urged listeners to remember the aftermath of that event, when “we were not African-Americans. We weren’t European-Americans or Latino Americans. We weren’t Republicans or Democrats, conservative or liberal. We banded together. So whenever we forget that, and become divided, remember how we came together as Americans.”
On Friday, in a sermon to about 2,000 worshippers, Walid urged members of the Western Suburbs Community Mosque to join with volunteers from other religious groups to clean up southwest Detroit’s Clark Park, marking today as an ecumenical day of service.
But across the nation this week, the controversy over an unbuilt Islamic community center is looming larger in the public consciousness than the memory of those shattered towers.
By now, most Americans think of the Park51 project only as “the mosque,” whatever its configuration.
Nine autumns ago, there was collective effort to imagine a more purposeful and energized union. But a day that was supposed to meld memory with hope today feels dark and defensive.
“Enemies of America were lucky that day,” said artist Carl Lundgren, who created a poster for a Detroit event today, Dally in the Alley, that’s festive and focused on the community get-together.
The Rev. Harry Cook, a retired Episcopal minister and online essayist, sees politicians manipulating an emotional anniversary, “giving people permission to express extremist feelings.”
“I’ll be really glad when I wake up on Sunday and it’s September 12,” he said.