I am angry.
That’s how I started my Sept. 17, 2001, column, six days after the terrorist attacks that felled the Twin Towers and punched a hole in the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. It was titled “Trying to be angry at the right things,” and I used it as a reminder that we didn’t need to be angry at Middle Easterners, Arabs or Muslims, but at the specific people responsible for the attacks.
A lot has happened since that morning. We are all older now, at different stages of our lives than we were then.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were an event -- but 9/11 means much more. It has left an indelible mark on our collective psyche. Even children born since then -- their lives are different than they would have been had 9/11 not occurred.
Since that beautiful yet terrible morning, we have seen the passage of the Patriot Act, creation of the Department of Homeland Security, security at airports become both excruciating and excruciatingly laughable, anti-Muslim sentiment run rampant for a time (with some trickles still remaining) and on and on.
I’ve seen this country tear itself apart, but I’ve also seen it come together since 9/11.
That was never more evident than immediately after the attacks. Friday, we published a 9/11 remembrance where I got to catch up with some of the people who were there with Camden connections. One of those was Jason Puhlasky, whose mother still lives here in Camden. He told me that it didn’t matter if you were black, white, rich, poor, conservative, liberal -- in the days after 9/11, we were all Americans. We acted that way, because that was how we felt.
I’d say we had to act that way; it was our way saying, “No, we’re not going to let you break us. We’re going to survive, rebuild, move on and be better than ever.”
The perpetrators of 9/11 killed some 3,000 of us -- Muslims included, by the way -- and they may kill more of us. But they will not kill America. They can’t because we’re not just a nation forged by geography or political expediency. We’re not even just a nation of people. We’re a nation of ideals, of principles that have their basis in a simple but unshakable truth: that all men (and women) are created equal.
By that simple statement we say that it truly doesn’t matter what your skin color is, your religious belief, national origin, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or even if you root for the Gamecocks or the Tigers.
We are all equal.
It’s a powerful statement when you think about it. To the terrorist, we are not equals. “We” are more than “they;” “they” do not deserve to live. Instead, we believe “they” have just as much a right to life as “we” do. It shapes the way we think and act, the way we treat others no matter how different they are from us.
At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it should be.
There is no doubt this country is, in many ways, more polarized than it was in the days before 9/11. Some see President Barack Obama as the devil; others see a crusading hero.
Neither is correct. The president is just a man who was democratically elected in 2008 to lead this nation. He espoused change as politicians often do. I happen to agree with him more often than not, but that’s my personal opinion.
Your opinion may be different, but it’s no less valid than mine. That, right there, is the beauty of this country: that we can have diametrically opposite opinions and still consider each other Americans.
This is a land of opportunity, which is something terrorists cannot abide. Because opportunity means hope. They try to crush that hope through fear, but that’s actually not possible.
Hope isn’t the absence of fear any more than courage is -- hope is taking that fear, facing it and determining that you’re going to find the opportunities to rebuild, reunite and reaffirm our identity as a nation.
For 235 years, America has given the clarion call for people with dreams beyond their situations to come to our shores and find freedom and the opportunities that go with it. The last 10 years do not change that. 9/11 did not change that.
My column 10 years ago ended with a call to remember that Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians, Iranians, Iraqis are not our enemies, and that those of them living in our country should be treated with respect.
This year, on the 10th anniversary of that awful day, I want you to remember what it felt like in the aftermath -- how it felt to be an American and know that the person next to you was, likely, an American, too, no matter how else you felt about them.
We are all equal. We need to remember that now more than ever and remember to treat each other with the respect we all deserve.
For me, that’s the best way to memorialize all those who lost their lives 10 years ago this week.
We do this not only for the victims of that day, but for all the heroes, too: the firefighters, police officers, EMS and hospital personnel, and our men and women in the military still fighting the War on Terror today.
We do this also for the people on board United Airlines Flight 93 who sacrificed their own lives to bring down the fourth plane in a Pennsylvania field so that it couldn’t be used to kill even more people in our nation’s capital.
Most of all we do it for ourselves, to remind ourselves we are and always will be Americans.
(Martin L. Cahn is the associate editor of the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. E-mail responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.)