Many of us remember exactly where we were the moment we learned about the atrocities of September 11, 2001. I was a college student at the time and like many I saw the twin towers fall on television. What was so surreal on 9/11 became too real on 9/12, when I learned that my classmate and friend Deora Bodley had boarded United Airlines flight #93, the flight that crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Deora and I had volunteered together as tutors with AmericaReads.
In the wake of 9/11, our nation united in shock and in grief, also in anger. Much of that anger was directed at Osama bin Laden and Al Queda, but our wrath also fell upon Muslims in general, including Muslim-Americans who wore hijabs or had Arab-sounding names. We found unity in our common enemy. We took comfort in our shared anger.
In the weeks that followed, as I grieved and grappled with my own anger at those who took Deora’s life, another friendship began to have a significant impact on me. Lila and I were Delta Gamma sisters. She was a first-generation Muslim American who happened to share a last name—but no relation—with one of the hijackers. Like many Muslims and Sikhs, she received slurs, had her property damaged by strangers and endured racial profiling.
I was angry about innocent Deora’s murder. At the same time, because of my friendship with Lila, I began to see the destructive potential that mismanaged anger could have on other innocents. I can’t think about 9/11 without thinking about these two friends, and I’m grateful for that. The lesson I learned from them is as pressing today as it was 16 years ago: We must not let fear or anger blind us to the humanity of our neighbors.
More recently, our fear and anger about the evaporating American Dream has been hijacked and turned against immigrants and refugees and African Americans and transgender people, as well as Muslims. But we must not let fear or anger blind us to the humanity of others. Scapegoating will not save us, only love of neighbor can do that.
I’m proud to live in a community where organizations like Inclusive Dubuque and Children of Abraham are actively working to build friendships between neighbors who have different stories to tell but who share the common human desire for a peaceful life, a decent job, and a good community in which to raise their children.
This year, as we remember 9/11 amid the specter of a DACA repeal, I invite you to join me in honoring this horrendous event by walking a proverbial mile in the shoes of an immigrant like the beloved restaurant owner I spoke with this week who told me about his arduous journey to America in search of a better life and about his hopes for his kid’s future. After all, aren’t we all dreamers?