Volume 14 Number 6
A Time for Rethinking
01 December 2001

For most Americans life has changed since 11 September. The events of that day and its aftermath have riveted indelibly on the American psyche how fragile were the peace and comforts we enjoyed. We had become too comfortable, too complacent.

War was something that happened elsewhere. With two oceans and all our military might to guard us, we thought we were immune from attack in this post-Cold War era. Such feelings partly explain why much of our media tended to ignore the larger world. The factors that foment terror were largely overlooked. Veteran CBS-TV News anchor Dan Rather holds himself and much of the news media responsible. With so little media and public concern about foreign affairs, many members of Congress had scant interest in international issues that impact America. That all changed on 11 September.

On that fateful day I was in Kharkiv, Ukraine, with a Cincinnati Sister City delegation at the official opening of a new American Center. It had been a joyous occasion, with the warm glow of friendship everywhere that late afternoon. Then the deputy chief of the US mission in Kiev relayed the news just received on her cell phone from the embassy.

Like millions across America, we were stunned. How could horror on such a scale target our country? Later, we were moved by the condolences from individual Kharkivites and, officially, through their Vice-Mayor and Secretary of City Council. Checking my e-mail, I found deeply moving messages of shock and sorrow from such friends as a Russian television journalist in Moscow, a Japanese woman at Waseda University (who lost a Waseda student friend on United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania) and, significantly, a Muslim professor in Uzbekistan who professed her love for America and sadness at what had happened.

Such sentiments were universal. For example messages of comfort and condolence from 36 countries flowed into the MRA/Initiatives of Change office in Washington, DC. Palestinians living in the DC area said that most Palestinians were appalled at what had happened and branded as deceptive TV images that showed some rejoicing.

Despite all the support and sympathy Muslims have expressed for Americans, tragically a number of the six or so million in America have been harassed. Some veiled women fear leaving their homes. A Sikh, mistaken for a Middle Easterner because of his beard and turban, was killed. At the same time, many Americans have rushed to support those targeted. The Washington Post said bricks ferrying ‘crude, racist remarks’ ripped through the front window of the Old Town Islamic Bookstore in Alexandria, Va, managed by Palestinian immigrant Hazim Barakat. But afterward, the Post said, ‘About 15 bouquets of flowers and more than 50 cards—some with money—arrived at his store. People from as far away as Tennessee and Nebraska called with condolences. A local businessman, who would not give Barakat his name, paid for a new window. Christian ministers and a rabbi dropped by to express their support.’

Clearly we Americans of whatever faith, race, ethnic origin or background need to reach out to and care for each other as never before. The tragic events have led many Americans to re-examine their faith—and how they are living it. Americans praying and feeling the need for closer community have packed places of worship. Family ties have tightened. Strangers often seem more aware of each other and exchange greetings. Yes, the America to which I returned is vastly different from the one I left.

While examining ourselves and what we’re living for, I think we all need to root out anything in ourselves which would keep us from our neighbours at home or abroad, whether they are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or of any other faith or no faith. In this troubled world at this critical hour, we clearly need each other.

Robert Webb is a former columnist and editorial writer for the ‘Cincinnati Enquirer’. He lives in Alexandria, Va, USA.
Robert Webb

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