On the 17th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11 and the advent of the Muslim new year, we remember those who lost their lives and in honor of their memories cherish the tolerance that is at the core of the American people’s values so we may rise above condemning a whole population for the crimes of a select few.
No one can forget where he or she was the morning of September 11, 2001, when terrorists launched four airline attacks simultaneously against the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon just outside of Washington DC, and a fourth target, possibly the White House. Three were successful, but the fourth failed, due to the heroic actions of several passengers and flight attendants who tackled the hijackers and prevented the fourth airplane from reaching its target, nevertheless crashing and killing everyone on board.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks that day, including the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi Arabian nationals.
Although Saudi Arabia had been a long-standing ally of the U.S., U.S. public opinion turned against the kingdom after the attacks, straining U.S.-Saudi relations.
Recognizing state sponsorship or support of terrorism, some efforts were made to seek justice for the victims against Saudi Arabia. In 2016, the U.S. Congress overwhelming passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) with enough of a majority to override President Obama’s veto. The bill permitted an exception to the sovereign immunity doctrine for civil law suits against a foreign state for injuries, death, or damages from an act of international terrorism.
In March 2017, the families of 850 people who died and another 1,500 who were injured in the terror attacks filed a lawsuit against the Kingdom for helping the terrorists. However, in March, 2018, the district court judge dismissed the vast majority of the claims, and the jurisdiction of U.S. courts over Saudi Arabia in the proceedings remains a big question.
Relations with the kingdom remained strained through the last few years of the Obama administration when Saudi Arabia, among other things, thumbed its nose at the Obama administration’s warnings about the civilian toll of the war in Yemen.
Now, however, the Saudis have become the number one U.S. ally, with the Trump administration making the Saudi kingdom its first stop on his first foreign presidential trip in May, 2017. The administration continues to cozy up to the Crown Prince, promising investments and $670 million in missiles sales.
Yet, Saudi Arabia is notorious for its continuing repression of free speech and any form of dissent, and ongoing human rights violations including the proposed beheading of women’s rights activists now on death row. Moreover, KSA is leading a coalition of foreign military forces in Yemen perpetrating war crimes against non-combatant women and children and perpetuating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with apparent impunity, absolving themselves from any culpability or accountability, and all with the military, logistics, and intelligence support of the U.S. The death toll in Yemen over the past three years has reached anywhere between 16,000 to 50,000 people, by some estimates, including at least 6,500 civilians, and as many as 22 million people are now displaced from their homes and on the brink of starvation and death due to the Saudi-imposed blockade.
Since the tragic 9/11 attacks, many Americans have either ignored or forgotten the Saudi state involvement and continue to blame Muslims and “radical Islam” for the actions of the 19 Saudi and other men who planned and executed the crime. Indeed, “Islamaphobia” has grown to unprecedented proportions in the U.S., and hate crimes against Muslims have soared.
And not only has public sentiment and xenophobia increased, but policies, such as the Muslim travel ban, have been proposed and/or implemented specifically targeting Muslims.
But is it reasonable for the actions of 19 Muslim terrorists to be attributed to all Muslims? Should 1.8 billion Muslims across 50 Muslim-majority countries and other parts of the world take the blame for the actions of a few extremists? This notion of “collective blame”– where a whole group is held culpable for the actions of some members of the group — is not only false, but contrary to any rational or legal concept under American values, American law, or international law. Condemning millions of individuals for the actions of some is not logical. Nobody blames all white people for the actions of white supremacists. Nobody blames the entire Christian population in the world for assaults and atrocities committed by Christian extremist groups like the KKK.
The vast majority of Muslims in the world neither subscribe to nor support terrorism. Instead they have condemned these barbarous acts and atrocities.
What undermines our logic and feeds our emotional reactions is a prevailing lack of understanding and even fear of others, especially Muslims, even though they may be our neighbors. It takes understanding — and the kind of empathy that is possible with a greater understanding of others of different faiths and beliefs — to confront and combat our tendencies toward blaming an entire group. And exposing the hypocrisy can also reveal and combat the fallacy of collective blame.
On this 17th anniversary of the atrocity and first day of the Muslim hijra new year, we remember the thousands of innocents who perished in the 9/11 attacks and the hundreds of emergency services rescue workers who were killed afterwards trying to save them. We honor their memory.
And in their memory, we rise above the sweeping condemnation of whole populations and encourage the tolerance and acceptance that are at the core of our American ideals.