9/11 and American Muslims

I had just started my sophomore year at Vanderbilt University when my mom called me in tears.  The only words I could make out were “baba” (dad) and “CNN.”  My dad was a New York City yellow cab driver, and she wanted me to turn on CNN to see what had happened to the Twin Towers.  I went into shock as soon as I saw the gruesome sight on TV, but luckily my dad called us later to say he was safe and sound in Midtown at the time of the attack.

A new reality set in a few days later.  We feared Islamophobic hate crimes.  My dad shaved his moustache and stayed home for a few weeks to avoid any attacks.  I immediately thought of Korematsu v. United States, a court case in which the Supreme Court allowed the U.S. government to round up Japanese-Americans in internment camps.  However, less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush took America in a direction that is almost unimaginable today by making his famous “Islam is Peace” speech: 

America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country.  Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads.  And they need to be treated with respect.  In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

In our darkest hour, we were still America.

A country without a plan

In the years since 9/11, we gave up on our values and our common sense.  We invaded Iraq based on carefully fabricated lies, and we created a power vacuum in Iraq that led to a fierce proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.  We expanded our conflict into a total of 8 Muslim countries through drones and special warfare.  A generation of young Muslims around the world grew up with nothing but Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, dehumanizing civil wars, and drone attacks as their image of America.

During the time we distracted ourselves, authoritarian regimes outflanked us.  Russia overran Georgia, destroyed Ukraine, and annexed Crimea.  China emerged as an economic power and made rapid advances in technology.  We even surrendered our democracy to Russian manipulation in the 2016 elections.  Our President is currently asking other foreign countries to intervene in the 2020 elections.  The sad reality is we are a country without a plan, and we are barely able to prevent our foreign rivals from intervening in our internal politics.  

A new foreign policy

America needs a second wind.  Congress has significant constitutional authority in shaping our foreign policy, and Congress must reassert that authority against the executive branch.  The Framers never intended to give the executive branch a blank check to wage permanent war.  We have been in a state of permanent war both inside and outside the United States since 9/11.  We must bring our troops home from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and advocate for peace.  We must have this discussion as a matter of public record instead of blindly reacting to conflicts.  

We must formulate a new foreign policy based on democracy, human rights and international cooperation.  We must develop our soft power.  We must grow the American economy.  We must educate every American.  We must rebuild our diplomatic and intelligence capabilities.  We must restore our reputation as a predictable and reliable ally.  We must prevent our educational institutions, corporations, and government officials from developing business ties with authoritarian states that threaten our national security.  We must project our soft power to counter the rise of authoritarianism.