As we approach the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, tensions flare higher, emotions grow thick. The importance of that date has been carved into the psyche of every American; it is the defining event of a generation, a tragedy that both shook a nation and stitched it closer. Our solidarity made us strong. However, with only the minimal bandage of time covering our wounds, memory easily submerges us: the glimpse of a firetruck, a steel cross. Ten years dims not the heroism and courage of that day, nor comforts and wipes the tears of the widows and families of 3,000 dead. Throughout our grief, though, one should not neglect the silent victims of this horror, as well.
Since the events of 9/11, many Americans have harbored increased anxiety for those of the Islamic faith. In 2006, a nationwide Gallup poll found 39% of those polled admitted to “hav[ing] at least some feelings of prejudice against Muslims.” In 2011, although 92% of Muslim Americans agreed with the statement “Muslims living in the U.S. do not sympathize with al Qaida,” only 57% of Catholics and 56% of Protestants supported that statement.
What is fear? What lies behind the racing heartbeat, the heightened senses, the instinctive urge to defend?
Islam is not the actions of a few men. Islam is not the religion of honor killings, brutality, misogyny and injustice.
Islam is a religion of peace. Of living in harmony with God above and abiding in His Will. Muslims (who pray five times daily) consider their time of prayer a “very great gift, for you will be in direct connection with God,” the Creator of the Universe. Prior to this meeting, Muslims perform wudu, or the ritual wash: they wash their hair, in case they have had any bad thoughts; their mouth, in case they have seen something wrong; their ears, if they have heard evil; their hands, in case they have handled something unclean; and their feet, in case they have walked to bad places.
We fear what we do not understand. I fear what I do not understand. But what happens when the shadows of the Big, Scary Unknown—what happens when they cloak a peace and compassion, a conscientious devotion, unlike any I have ever known? A prayer room in a mall. A prayer mat spread out by the beach, a dorm room. Have you ever felt the comfort of being cradled by thousands of voices petitioning God’s will?
Since 9/11, we have been fed on a diet of “The Other.” “The Other” is not to be approached, conversed with, learned from… just kept far away and separate.
As Yoda once said, however, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Why do we fear? Because we do not understand. Why do we not understand? Because we are afraid to learn.
It is a treacherous path we walk, one that began in the ashes of tragedy. Even as we mourn, however, and remember our sorrow…we must not allow that pain to flow in uncharted directions, finding its own course of misdirected apprehension.
Even as a phoenix is born in the ash of death, so we may yet learn hope and trust, soaring above our confusion and misunderstanding. We have been given a gift of diversity in our nation, in all of its beautiful races, colors, and religions.
Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew. Black, White, Asian, Indian, Puerto Rican.
We are One.
 Gallup Poll
Brett Beeson currently studies Arabic and Spanish at the United States Naval Academy, Class of 2014. Growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, Brett’s natural instinct to travel soon revealed itself. She studied in León, Spain and worked in Isla Pucu, Paraguay for two of her high school summers, and she recently returned from a two-month, full-immersion trip to Muscat, Oman. Brett currently focuses her time and attention on studying religion and writing on her blog when she’s not fulfilling her responsibilities and commitments as a midshipman.
Brett is the daughter of Jory and Dave Fisher and Phil and Cathy Beeson.