I well remember the horrors of 9/11/2001. I lived in Manhattan then and still do. I could see the smoke coming from the Twin Towers in the distance from my window. I knew at least one person in the complex (who got out safely). My older daughter, who was living in New Jersey at the time, would have been passing through the PATH station underneath the buildings on her way to work in Manhattan around the time of the attacks if she had not has left her job only a few weeks before.
She had, in fact, gone to a photo store in the lower level of the WTC just a few days before 9/11 to leave off some film to be developed. (For the benefit of younger ID readers, film is something that was once used to take pictures with before the invention of the cell phone and the digital camera.) The photo store was obliterated in the attack. But several weeks later, a worker going through the rubble noticed the envelope with the film lying on top of some of the debris and mailed it to my daughter. She had the film developed and the pictures came out without a scratch. I always shiver a little when I think of this incident.
But what is the real legacy of 9/11/? Perhaps more to the point, does anyone care what the legacy is, or is the 10th anniversary just an excercise in media hype? There are very real, urgent issues facing America today - the concentration of wealth upward, disappearance of the middle class; the transformation of America from a vibrant democracy into a third world banana republic controlled by unlimited corporate money, as Arianna Huffington contends in her brilliant book Third World America; and, above all, the deepening unemployment, hopelessness, poverty and despair which are taking America back to the time of the Great Depression, all of which minority immigrants are now being made scapegoats for, just as they were made scapegoats for 9/11.
Is not the excessive focus on this event just a diversion from America's real problems now? Of course, we must remain vigilant. But Bin Laden is dead. So are many of his cohorts. Al Qaeda still exists and is dangerous, to be sure. But none of its leaders can so much as scratch his nose anywhere in the world without our intelligence knowing about it. America's greater danger is from the forces of unreason, avarice and hate inside our own borders, especially inside our own political establishment.
Will rehashing the horror, grief and terrible suffering of that day endlessly help in overcoming America's real and urgent economic problems now? Will it assuage the pain of those who lost their loved ones? Will it bring the 2,500 American citizens and 500 immigrants who died in the attacks back to life? And this brings me to the main point of 9/11.
Over the past 10 years, we have grown used to hearing rants from right wing politicians about the "3000 Americans" who died in the 9/11 atrocity. We have, especially during the Bush years, grown used to seeing the world "immigrant" lumped together with the word "terrorist", as if both were essential parts of a composite word. We can all remember the "Special Registration" persecutions of men from Muslim countries (including many who were not Muslims - I once gave a presentation about Special Registration at a Roman Catholic Church - to a group of Indonesian Christians.)
The reality is that, according to CNN estimates at the time, not all of the 9/11 victims were Americans. Some 500 of the 9/11 victims were non-US citizens. If I remember the figures correctly, the victims came from over 90 different countries. Not long ago, I visited a branch of the Folk Art Museum near New York's Lincoln Center and saw a huge quilt embroidered with the names of all of the WTC victims. These name are a cross section of almost every nationality, every ethnicity, every religion (including, of course, Islam), every skin color and every language group known to the human race.
What were the perpetrators of 9/11 World Trade Center atrocity really trying to attack? Diversity, tolerance, harmony, respect and equality among the different peoples of this earth. Where was the attack directed? Against the most international city on this planet.There is, after all, a lesson in 9/11. The people who wrote the immigration laws in Alabama, Georgia, and Arizona, and who are pushing for similar laws in other states, as well as the authors of the 2005 bill H.R. 3447, and all the other purveyors of hate against Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern and black immigrants (and their US citizen children) need to learn the lesson of 9/11. The 10th aniversary commemoration is especially for them.
Roger Algase is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing business immigration law in New York City for more than 20 years.