PROVIDENCE, RI – No one who was alive on that glorious Indian summer morning a decade ago will ever forget precisely what they were doing when the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
The destruction of these symbols of economic and governmental might and the scenes of people jumping to their deaths struck at the hearts and psyches of millions of Americans who never imagined such a thing could happen to the strongest nation the world has known for at least two centuries.
Who can ever forget that for a time most of the civilized world stood with us. The French daily Le Monde ran that famous front page headline that said: "We are all Americans."
The decade since 911 hasn't been easy for Americans or for many of our allies around the world. Two controversial wars, other terror attacks around the globe and economic decline has marked these years for too many of us.
There have been many debates and discussions about the lasting significance and meaning of the horrors of 911. Unfortunately, in some American precincts, anti-Muslim hostilities have erupted.
There has always been a strain of disdain against newcomers to our shores. Successive waves of immigrants were subjected to nativism. During World War II, Japanese-Americans were put in camps on the west coast in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. One shudders to think of what could have happened to them had the United States lost the war in the Pacific.
Yet, through the years of war, depression and discrimination, Americans engraved into the national myth the words of Emma Lazarus's poem on the Statute of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Today, too many of us would like to change that sentiment to "give us your shortstops, your surgeons, your software engineers yearning to write code."
As we remember 911, we should not forget that the strength of our nation, and especially Rhode Island, lies in our tolerance for those of different creeds and economic status who blended together to make us the world's golden door.
It is true that a tiny minority of Muslim extremists terrorized peaceful Americans a decade ago. Yet, Muslims who have no other agenda than living in freedom continue to come here and live productive lives in our midst.
They are folks like Adina Ajmiri of Cranston, a 57-year old pathology assistant at Women and Infants Hospital, who is originally from Bangladesh and has lived in Cranston since 1995. She and her husband, a doctor, have raised two sons here, one of whom is a doctor in Boston and the other a student at Emerson College.
Ajimiri wears the traditional Muslim head covering and says she is aware of the backlash against Muslims after 911. But she says Rhode Islanders have treated she and her family well. "Where I work, God Bless, people are very pleasant."
Over the years, Ajimiri says, she has occasionally gotten a "stare or two" because of her head covering, but "nobody has ever been rude...Rhode Island has been a good place to live."
As for her fellow followers of Islam who live among us, she says trouble-making is not on their agenda. "Most of us just want to work, live a peaceful life and get on with the business of raising their kids."
Which is pretty much what most other Rhode Islanders seek.
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