Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2003 / 6 Elul, 5763
Leonard Pitts, Jr.
Say a prayer because change is coming
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There will be a conference this month to celebrate the mass murders of Sept. 11, 2001.
It will be held in London, exact date unknown. The sponsor is Al-Muhajiroun, a Muslim extremist group that, for the record, disputes reports characterizing the gathering as a celebration.
Also for the record: Posters promoting the conference depict the Sept. 11 hijackers as "The Magnificent 19." Draw your own conclusion.
Al-Muhajiroun's event was first reported last week by British newspapers and "NBC Nightly News." Coincidentally, the story broke just days before officials released transcripts of telephone calls and radio transmissions made from the World Trade Center that awful morning two years ago.
To read from those transcripts is to be swept into a universe of fire and smoke, confusion and fear. A Port Authority executive seeks assurance that rescuers are on the way. "They will come up, huh? They will check each floor?"
An emergency dispatcher struggles to comprehend what a caller has just told her. "Sir, you have WHAT jumping from buildings?"
"People," he says.
A desk sergeant says, "Oh, my G-d," as a colleague on the scene reports the unthinkable.
"Say a prayer, brother," the colleague replies.
If you can juxtapose that with Al-Muhajiroun's party without a shudder of cold fury, you're a better person than I.
The events of Sept. 11 left many of us shuddering. And wondering if we could be and even if we should continue to be the nation we had always been. Meaning the nation that wore with swaggering pride our freedom of movement, our freedom of expression, our freedom of association, OUR freedom. The nation where the power of government to surveil and to detain was limited by fact that the people had certain unalienable rights. The nation that was open and unafraid.
Could we continue to be that nation? Could we continue to be that young?
We could not.
The intervening years have seen dozens of men rounded up based on little more than religion and ethnicity. Some mistreated, many not allowed access to legal counsel. You don't walk as freely as you once did in the nation's capital; it is necessary to navigate around concrete barricades and access to the Capital building, the people's house, is restricted. The government uses a color chart to tell us how frightened we should be on any given day.
And what have we achieved in exchange? Well, the Taliban is gone. Many of Osama bin Laden's confederates are, too, though he remains at large. Al-Qaida is diminished but still murderously active. Iraq - whose connection to these events always seemed more than a little dubious - is looking evermore like a quicksand pit.
So the record is mixed, to say the least. In the meantime, we are no longer what we were. And it's still unclear what we will become.
Al-Muhajiroun's celebration is a reminder, as visceral as a punch in the mouth, that our enemies have no such qualms about identity, about who and what they are. Zealots never do. Clarity is an advantage they always enjoy.
And it's at times like these that the rule of law comes to feel like unbearable weight. Like fighting off a back alley mugging by Marquis of Queensberry rules. I mean, for criminy sake, the Al-Muhajiroun gathering is entirely legal in Great Britain. As it would be here.
Some people would call that foolhardy. I call it brave, even while conceding that sometimes, there's not a lot of difference between the two. But at a time when we see ourselves being made into what we don't yet know, it seems to me that it is more than ever important to be brave. To embrace more firmly the ideals that make ours a civilization worth defending.
Because change is coming. And there is no guarantee we're going to recognize ourselves once it does.
So brace yourself. And say a prayer, brother. Say a prayer.
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