I Haven’t Forgotten (Written 2008, updated 9/11/2011)

The principle of jihad practiced by the Sudanese government in which they pitted one African Sudanese people against another was known as “use a slave to kill a slave.” What a twisted, evil way in which to enact that principle here in the United States: using our own aircraft, our own fellow citizens’ bodies, as weapons

Like most people my age or older, I remember exactly where I was when I heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. In the same way, seven years after 9/11, I remember exactly where I was when radical Islamists changed the world as we know it.

I recount my experience here not because of some self-indulgent nostalgia, but as a way of honoring those who died, and of demonstrating how important it is to connect the dots about radical Islam and global jihad.

Knowledge of what was happening on that warm, sunny day in September came piecemeal to me. I was in a taxi on my way to the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill when I heard the first news report on the radio. An airplane had hit one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

“What a terrible accident!” I shuddered, thinking that a small aircraft had flown too close to the skyscraper and crashed to the earth.

A few minutes later I arrived at the Rayburn Building, so I didn’t hear any more of the news report. The Sudan Coalition, which the IRD helped to create, was having a press conference about the need for the U.S. government to enact capital market sanctions against companies doing business with the Islamist regime that was waging genocide against its own people in Sudan. U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) had offered an amendment to that effect in a piece of legislation known as the Sudan Peace Act. Such capital market sanctions would cripple the Sudanese regime financially in a far more effective way than we had been able to do through a divestment campaign against its partner oil companies.

Most of my friends and fellow advocates were already in the hearing room when I arrived. Every eye was fixed on a television screen, where a second airplane approaching the Twin Towers was making its nightmarish appearance. A heartbeat later, we all gasped. Some cried out, as if in prayer for the passengers and crews on the planes and the people occupying the World Trade Center. Others swore angrily—I think these were the folks who had already read the situation aright, and knew that we were now engaged in a battle such as we had never known before.

There would be no press conference by the Sudan Coalition that day. In my confusion and shock, which was merely a kind of self-protective denial that would later be replaced with grief and rage, I was numbly bemoaning the difficulty of rescheduling a press conference. Reminded of those in the government who downplayed the role of radical Islam in Sudan, I thought, “Now they’ll get it! Now they will understand what we’re up against!”

Then I connected the dots, and I “got it.” The inconceivable was taking place. This was deliberate. This was an act of terrorism. The principle of jihad practiced by the Sudanese government in which they pitted one African Sudanese people against another was known as “use a slave to kill a slave.” What a twisted, evil way in which to enact that principle here in the United States: using our own aircraft, our own fellow citizens’ bodies, as weapons against us.

Another news report then hit us in the Rayburn Building—it seemed that another plane might be headed towards Washington, DC to target the White House or the Capitol.

“We have to get out of here—now!” announced one member of our coalition, an expert on global terrorism.

Silently we all looked around the room at each other as if to say goodbye, reluctant to leave the room, which would be tantamount to accepting the new reality outside that door. We returned to the hallway which was already mad with Hill staffers and others trying to get out. The simple task of exiting the Rayburn Building became much more complicated and then leaving the city proved extremely difficult. But it was nothing compared to the hell that we would later hear was taking place in New York or just a few miles away from us, at the Pentagon. Or in the air over Shanksville, PA.

That morning we could not begin to comprehend how life would be forever changed. We now talk about appeasers of radical Islam as having a “September 10” mentality. I fall squarely on the other side of the divide. I’ve become more patriotic than I ever was before. I developed a totally unexpected appreciation of country music—since it was mostly country singers who paid and continue to pay tribute to those who died on September 11 and to those who serve our country’s armed forces. And every so often, I pull out a big book called Portraits: 9/11/01, open it at random, and cry over the death of someone I never knew.

In the days that followed 9/11, I wondered if those of us on Capitol Hill that morning owed our lives to the brave Americans who brought down United Airlines Flight 93. It seems likely that until they diverted that particular weapon of mass destruction, it was headed towards Washington, DC.

From what we know now, it seems that was definitely the case. And when one of my favorite country singers, Darrell Worley, sings of those who “went down like heroes in that Pennsylvania field” in his ballad, Have You Forgotten?, I know that I have not forgotten. And I never will.

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