My family and I toured the 9/11 museum this summer in Manhattan. It was a surreal experience. I began to recall the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and our annual trips to Manhattan in the summertime.
Good friends allowed us to stay in their apartment, so we had the opportunity to get to know the city. I can distinctly remember going year after year to ground zero and gazing down into the belly of this enormous crevasse. There were flowers attached to the fences and scaffolding that surrounded the site and signs posted remembering fire departments that had participated as first responders. We just stared into the depths of this ravine where hatred spewed forth against America and collapsed on top of 3,000 people.
In those years we read reports of squabbling between government and the private sector as to how and when the structure would be rebuilt. Each year we came to this abyss and witnessed the slow but steady progress of building something new and remembering the past.
Upon entering the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, it almost felt like descending into the depths of a tomb inside a pyramid from Egypt. The remaining slabs of concrete left me with the feeling of burial crypts and the steel girders that once braced the mighty infrastructure of the twin towers were hanging, twisted and almost dangling in midair as if they were suspended sculptures in an art exhibit. They reminded me of how artists who do public art in large spaces can manipulate or bend steel. Yet, these surviving girders, braces and beams were mere remnants.
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Artifacts from those there on that day were also on display. Strange how pedestrian items like shoes or clothes or even a portion from a television tower can take on such a powerful meaning to the tourists who walk by and seem to be in a daze as they examine them and probably imagine the people who used them in their daily lives. In one of the exhibits, one can walk around and see the pictures of everyone who died, including victims of all religions and faiths as well as races and ethnic backgrounds. Inside this exhibit area, one can sit and listen to a recording of people talking about their loved ones who died that day. I remember staring at some pictures when two men were pointing at one picture of a fireman and saying what a great guy he was and how "he greeted us at the fire station with a smile."
There are quite a few exhibits about Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, who planned and executed this operation over New York City and Washington D.C. Those videos and an introductory film delineate the radical Islamic ideology that created the embers of this fire of hatred against American citizens. The controversy started with the film, which some religious leaders complained did not distinguish between al-Qaida and Islam. In fact, the only imam on the advisory group responsible for the film resigned because of the feeling that the film would lead visitors to associate Islam with al-Qaida. The producers of the film, on the other hand, felt it was important to explain the ideology of al-Qaida so as to clearly identify who was responsible for this massacre and how their religious views led to this monstrous terrorist attack.
I can certainly understand why Muslims would feel uncomfortable, but the facts are what they are. Suppressing that information would be a disservice to history and to the truth of why this happened to the first place. We are still contending with radical Islamic ideologues as we see in the Middle East today. At the same time, it is also important to restrain ourselves not to judge all Muslims in America as terrorists. If anything, this museum should serve the purpose of fostering more dialogue between Muslims and other religions in American life. Our nation is still vulnerable to terrorism and all religions need to be proactive in maintaining peace as well as be vigilant toward exposing terrorism from extremist ideologies that operate on the periphery of their respective faiths that threatened the safety and security of our land.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.
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