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Reflection on 9/11 by Rev. Mark Fowler

By Rev. Mark Fowler, CEO, Tanenbaum

On September 11, 2001, I was on my way to the World Trade Center. I was set to begin a leadership training program and the offices and classrooms of the organization were in 1 World Trade Center. I didn’t have the news on before I left my apartment, but as I approached the subway I could see a crowd gathered and I ran into a friend of mine who was panicked. He looked at me and said, “Someone’s done something to the Trade Center. Go and pray!” I walked up to the corner where everyone was standing. I could see smoke coming from the tower but I did not know the cause. I thought about trying to make it there to see if the people in the organization’s office were there or needed help, but realized I’d never be able to get there.

I went home, turned on the television, and watched in disbelief as the reporters discussed how a plane flew into the first tower. While watching the newscast I saw the second plane hit. I said out loud, with no one in my apartment, “Now is a time for leadership.” The morning continued to unfold with the reports of the attacks on the Pentagon and the downing of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. I experienced a fear and uncertainty I had never known.

I have to say that I cannot remember in any sequence or rational thought all of what was being shared about the perpetrators or the reasons for the attacks. But the prevailing ideas were that America was being attacked by Islam.

The initial fear subsided after a month or so, and in time my life would return much to its normal course. It wasn’t until I started working at Tanenbaum, on September 10th, 2007, when I would begin to understand how the fear I experienced on 9/11 became the ongoing condition for Muslims, Sikhs, and people perceived to be members of those groups. I learned that the hatred that existed for Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslims, were given sanction in all of the areas in which Tanenbaum worked. I learned that combatting religious prejudice meant we had to create spaces where all of people’s experiences could be heard and witnessed, and that there were no easy answers. I also learned that being raised Christian, regardless of my practice, gave me some cover and no one was asking me to be moderate in views or practice of my faith.

As I reflect on the impact of 9/11 today, I know that we have to work to make more room, not less, for all of us to understand our differences, especially our religious differences. None of us can predict the future. We can, though, work to create the future where we bravely hold ourselves accountable for the ways in which we have failed to practice the Golden and Platinum rules, and commit to doing better. And we can work to ensure that the fear we experienced on September 11th, 2001not be the condition of existence for anyone.

By Rev. Mark Fowler, CEO, Tanenbaum