Monday, September 13, 2010

That Other Thing That Happened On September 11.

I've been spending a lot of time of late crowing about the Food Truck Fest, which, fortunately, was far from doomed by its September 11 scheduling. But it would be foolish not to acknowledge the more significant events of that date, especially given the recent cultural temperature.

In 2001, just a few months after the Sept. 11 tragedy, we had an unusual entry in the Granada Hills Holiday Parade. Amid the mylar and spray snow festooned boy scout troops, drill teams, and church groups marching and riding down Chatsworth, there was one smaller and quieter entry in the parade. A group of about six to eight men and women walked down the street, all of them cocoa-skinned, with Indian features and attire. All wore turbans, and they carried a banner that said, "Happy Holidays From Your Sikh Neighbors." Or something along those lines; it was almost a decade ago, so I don't remember the exact wording of the sign. But the message was essentially, "Please don't attack us; we're not Muslim."

There was restrained applause as the group walked by the onlookers sitting on the curb in front of Jack In The Box, and I also detected a hint of puzzlement at this far from typical yet apropos parade entry. I appreciated their nerve; not only were they not hiding in their homes, but they were parading down our main street! Their intention was clear: it was to dispel the thick layer of fear and suspicion surrounding anyone dark-skinned and of non-Christian descent in the days immediately following 9/11. After an apparent lull, in 2010 such fear is running high once again.

That this Sikh group even found such an action necessary seemed at once totally odd and totally logical. It also struck me as courageous at the time, although I'm not sure why; ideally, extending a public gesture of neighborly friendship shouldn't be anything out of the ordinary. The Granada Hills Holiday Parade typically features a number of faith-based groups seeking to represent themselves in the community; this was just one more.

Nine years later, most of us no longer need to be taught that the Sept. 11 hijackers identified themselves as Muslims, not Sikhs, but many still seem to have a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between Muslims and terrorists.

It's simple to look back on embarrassing chapters of American history and see them for the shameful episodes they were; it's often less simple to see the embarrassments of the present day. Thinking back to the Japanese American internment in the wake of Pearl Harbor, it's clear that the creation of "Exclusion Zones," in which Japanese Americans were exiled from entire regions of the country, was prejudicial folly. Fortunately, we haven't repeated this sort of policy—at least on an official level. There isn't yet any similar such exclusion zone in the blocks surrounding Ground Zero, but sadly, there are plenty of Americans who would vote to create one.

I wonder what would happen if a group of Muslims chose to march down Chatsworth Street in this year's Granada Hills Holiday Parade? Would they be received with applause, jeers, or a mix of both? And what would their banner say? Maybe it could read "We're Not Terrorists, We're Your Neighbors," or perhaps "We Deplore Islamic Terrorism As Much Or More Than You Do."

If that ever happened, I'd hope that any taunts coming from the spectators — and there'd surely be a few — would be silenced by a compassionate majority intelligent enough to comprehend that just as Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, and Jim Jones are not representative of all Christians, Mohammed Atta and his ilk are not representative of all Muslims.

3 comments:

  1. Congrats on this excellent and thoughtful post!

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  2. Loved this blog! Yes people need not be so ignorant. Perhaps they need to travel outside of the U.S. so they can see that we are not the center of the universe! There are soooo many religions and cultures out there. So much to learn and appreciate. Thank goodness for diversity!

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  3. Very nice post, LJ - maybe an official invitation to the mosque on Rinaldi from the organizers?

    - Brad Smith

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