Steve Woods

Embracing the Stranger

In What Day is it? on September 11, 2009 at 10:30 pm
Suffering through aftermath of 9/11

Suffering through aftermath of 9/11

The day was September 15, 2001, just four days after we held each other in front of our televisions, watching our combined sense of security explode, disintegrate, tumble to the very ground before our eyes.  For many of us, our hearts were still filled by having drunk from the bitter cup of sadness, distrust, fear, anger.  For some of us, this dangerous brew was just too much to stomach…

Early that morning, like any other, Balbir Singh Sodhi headed off from his Mesa, Arizona home to work.  A Sikh from India, Balbir moved to America in 1991, opening up a gas station in Mesa a year later. On that fateful day an angry Frank Roque, after having spent a number of days vowing revenge against “the ragheads” in local bars, walked into Balbir’s Chevron station and shot him to death. While being arrested, after having moved on to shoot into the home of an Afghani family and narrowly missing a Lebanese clerk at a Mobil station, Frank stated that he stood “for America all the way.”

9/11 is a day of collective mourning for our Nation, going about our day amidst the calls for soft moments of silence, gingerly looking once again towards the slowly healing Footprint.  But if the sense of loss, the hollowness with which we went about our business, is as a result of thinking about the loss of lives on that day, then you have missed a chance to ponder on, to mourn an even greater loss  – discovering ourselves through friendship with the Stranger.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Al Qaeda rejoiced in a perceived victory. What they saw was much more than the fall of the World Trade Center, the smoke rising from the Pentagon.  Al Qaeda’s sights were set much farther than the destruction of that day, as they awaited angry American retaliation.

To be sure the destruction of the day led us to an angry precipice, wanting solid revenge on the perpetrators. It is estimated that had Flight 93 hit its mark, likely the Halls of Congress or the White House itself, we may’ve struck out in blind anger at any number of Muslim nations.  At least that is what Al Qaeda had hoped for, and they were ready to drum up Muslim nations in retaliation against Western nations in turn, in an endlessly escalating spree of suspicion and anger, violence and war. Balbir Singh Sodhi was a victim of such a demand for immediate “justice,” a victim of being the Stranger during times of anger.

It is said that to love your enemy is the surest way to defeat him.  Our enemies in Al Qaeda rely on a belief that we are a nation of bigots and simpletons, that if you simply add angry men calling themselves Muslims into American society, along with some level of public destruction, we will attack and isolate ourselves from Islam.  So how do we upset these plans?

How well do you know Islam? Have you taken time to learn about the contents of the Koran? Have you taken the time to talk with a member of the Islamic faith?  Shared a lunch? Dinner? Day? Studied how 1.6 Billion people commemorate Ramadan, or helped even one Muslim family celebrate Eid ul-Fitr?  Are you actively working on breaking down the walls?

America is all about the melting pot, the blending of all of us together into one place.  To be truly “for America all the way,” is to blend ourselves into the mix, into that place.  To consider your neighbors that pray differently, dress differently, act differently to be just as much a part of the mixture as yourself.

I ask you to consider learning more about those faiths that are completely foreign to you.  I am asking you to take a journey together, to find the Stranger and get to know him, to bring an understanding of him into your life, to not only accept or tolerate, but to find a way to embrace his presence all around you.  Because in a melting pot society, we will never truly get to know our national identity, will never be able to strengthen its individual bonds against our enemies, without first having embraced the Stranger.

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