Sunday, I was the master of ceremonies for the 9-11 Unity Walk, which brought people of many faith traditions together to express mutual respect for each other’s faith traditions. And an amazing event it was. Where else can you hear a Muslim call to prayer in a synagogue? Where else can you hear “Amazing Grace” over the loudspeakers at a mosque? Where else would you find the Vatican Embassy serving cookies to everyone who comes by on the front lawn?
Part of the idea of the walk is to encourage dialogue and story-telling among participants. And I heard an incredibly moving story as I walked. I met a young Muslim man, Rais Bhuiyan, who was one of the first victims of violent Islamophobia after 9/11 -- a hate crime. He lived in Texas, and was the third victim of Mark Stroman, a man who killed two people, then shot Bhuiyan in the head. He lost the sight in his right eye permanently. But he rejected thoughts of vengeance and instead, spent the next nine years of his life trying to save Stroman’s life by stopping his execution in Texas. He did not succeed in the latter; Stroman was executed in July 2011. But before he died, Stroman changed his mind and his heart because of the loving outreach of Rais Bhuiyan.
I quickly reflected: When do we ever hear about Muslims who do such things? The media is generally so full of stories of vengeful or angry Muslims, we miss the larger, peaceful reality.
I also began to reflect on monuments. I had watched CNN that morning as the Ground Zero monument was dedicated and families entered to see it. There are also monuments to the deceased at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. But 9/11 did not “end” on 9/11. It led directly to the war in Afghanistan, and was used as an excuse for the war in Iraq. Where will the victims of those wars be memorialized, I wondered. Probably nowhere. Even in death, we are a privileged nation.