Fear must not lead to persecution

One by one, the planes were grounded and the skies over America grew silent, as if some higher power had left for greener pastures and easier times. On the ground, the chaos born of Tuesday’s unspeakable acts spread westward, fast as hell, consuming this nation.

Today, in the aftermath, our circumstances call for temperance and care more than anything. We have entered treacherous waters and if we are not careful our nation could become a dangerous place for anyone of Middle Eastern decent. As with the Oklahoma City bombing, the word “terrorist” was immediately thrown onto the airwaves and the search began for a tan face with which to connect it. And like the hours soon after the Oklahoma City bombing, we still have no idea who did this. It could be a terrorist faction from the Middle East, a group of white militants from Montana or any other cadre of zealots. Yet this is not the most pressing issue. More important than finding out who attacked us – more important, even, than exacting revenge – is the maintenance of freedom and adherence to the principles that make this such an unfathomable tragedy. We must not become terrorists of our own people.

People, even those who were there, might never fully grasp the reality of Sept. 11. The numbers, though still soon after the attack, seem too large to understand. Fifty thousand people worked in the World Trade Center. Twenty-three thousand work in the Pentagon, which suffered destruction of one of its five wings. The attack on Pearl Harbor, during which 2,403 Americans died, seems to pale in comparison. During the entire Vietnam War, 58,178 Americans lost their lives. There is no analogy to seek. No parallels can be drawn.

And so we emerge from the smoke and the loss into unfamiliar territory. What we do in the coming days and weeks will define this nation, perhaps for the rest of its history. Any social progress we have made will either be erased or solidified depending on what we do today and tomorrow, day after day, until we are no longer afraid. If we, as a nation or as individuals, choose to persecute any group for the acts of so few, no more buildings need be destroyed, for America will already be gone. Throughout our history, our fathers and mothers fought and died to protect our freedom from those outside our borders who would steal it. But soon we will have to fight like never before against the urge to take those freedoms from ourselves.

In this darkest of hours, we must not turn our backs on the light provided us by our rights as U.S. citizens. Sept. 11 will show, before all is said and done, those rights are the only things we have which cannot be taken away by others. We must believe – not only remember – the truth in Thomas Jefferson’s declaration: “Those who trade liberty for security will have neither.”

Much has been taken from us. Our great nation has been robbed of too many things we hold dear. But we must go forward with the knowledge that no one but ourselves can rob us of our humanity. We must keep this in mind as we meet whatever tomorrow holds, and we must remember it the next day and during the days that follow until the morning comes when the cloud is lifted and we are no longer afraid.