John Stewart, discussing the World Trade Center atrocity a few days after it happened, spoke about test of our nation's fabric; tests of the mettle of our people. I have been thinking a lot about that in these days leading up to the anniversary of the world famous terrorist attack. I have been pondering these trials that we have been subjected to in the seven years that have passed since the profile of the New York skyline so enormously altered the profile of American life.
I find myself saddened to say that we are failing those tests.
It almost seems trite to say that anything would mean "the terrorists have won" in light of how egregiously that phrase was abused in the weeks and months that followed the tragedy, but let us consider for a moment what defines a win for a terrorist. It is not the hostile takeover of a foreign land; they are not a government or nation and have no land-ownership urges. It is not the complete destruction of a nation; bombs strapped on people and airplanes crashing simply do not do that sort of damage. It is not even to inspire social change, not really; social change might be the long term goal--the endgame, if you will--but these are not the methods of social activists. No, to score a win, a terrorist seeks to inspire terror; to annihilate the way of life of his or her target. To create fear, uncertainty, suspicion, conspiracy, and doubt. To create the United States, circa 2008.
We are failing these tests.
A nation with stronger resolve and more effective leadership could have shrugged the attacks off and tended to the dead and wounded--to those left behind. A more powerful set of beliefs would have been able to see the attacks for what they were, and not immediately started an institutional policy of racism and profiling. A braver country could have, inspired by the bravery shown by the passengers of US Airways Flight 93, refused to allow the scope of military action to spread to unrelated nations. A polity more committed to its ideals would have ignored a call to throw away its Constitution in favor of the perception of safety.
We failed those tests.
And seven years later, we are still failing the same tests. We are still sacrificing personal freedoms for illusory morsels of protection, but are we any safer? Have performances of racial profiling, do not fly lists, absurd limitations on fluids, and unprecedented levels of surveillance made us safer? Have torture chambers limited the terrorist threat? Has the destruction of NAFTA slowed the passage of terrorists into and out of this nation? Of course not.
Each of these, tests we have failed.
But it is far too easy to take shots at the government; what have we done on the personal level? How many of you have listened quietly as a friend or loved one talked about shutting down the borders entirely, all in the name of safety? Have you sit idly by as co-workers bandied about the wisdom of making English the national language or Christian values the national legal code? Nodded along as the terms "muslim", "arab", and "terrorist" were used interchangeably, as if merely being brown, following Islam, or being from any nation in a fantastically large region makes one guilty of terror? If so, you are part of the problem.
You are failing these tests.
Yes, our American mettle and our American fiber are still being tested today, and it is my dearest hope that on this day--September 11th--we take the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. It is time to take this win back from the terrorists. It it high time we start passing these tests. Our entire country is at stake.