Leave it to me to muddy the waters.
Because I prefer to use what many call “military dating,” today isn’t 9-11, Nine-Eleven, or Nine-One-One. It’s the eleventh day of the ninth month of the 2011th year in the Common Era. (“Common” to whom has never been very clear.) As the Nation, even the World, pauses to note what happened ten years ago, I wonder how Agincourt is acknowledging this day and, moreover, how those events had affected approximately 25,000 Iowans in the days immediately after the WTC event itself.
Listening to NPR coverage today, I recollect an earlier blog about Faith versus Belief; I’m more inclined toward the latter. Faith, for me, connotes assurance—as in “Blessed Assurance” from the popular hymn tune—and if there is one thing living has taught me, it’s the assurance that human nature is hardly trustworthy. Call me a cynic—people have said far worse—but trust in my species has often been misplaced.
Belief on the other hand (and its verbal form “to believe”) is forever optimistic that we can and probably will do the right thing. Whether through enlightenment, embarrassment or outright coercion, people (individuals, peer groups and societies at large) will exercise their critical thinking and make a choice for broader benefit with minimal sacrifice. Abraham Lincoln said it best: As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. There are, however, many in political life today who wish to be my master. And my faint remaining faith in humankind is shaken by those who will use today’s commemorative moments for ideological gain.
Just about this time in 2007, Vince Hatlen and I were enjoying coffee at the NDSU Memorial Union, when our colleague Bakr AlyAhmed stopped to say hello and ask what we were doing. Sketch books vying with coffee for space on the small table, Vince and I were discussing his contribution to the upcoming Agincourt exhibit, a collaboration with his wife Carol on a Montessori school and its backstory, set in the 1950s. Bakr wondered if Agincourt needed a mosque. Yes! I said with enthusiasm and no hesitation whatsoever, of course we did. Agincourt had welcomed Somali refugees in the 1990s and new arrivals from Darfur were finding their place in the American matrix as we spoke. Their numbers didn’t concern me (an accurate count, that is) but their very presence supported visibility in our midst of a useful resource for their ongoing acculturation—and ours, for that matter. Acculturation is a two-way street where I come from.
Bakr’s contribution to the exhibit of October 2007 was a sophisticated, self-assured Islamic Center on land near three other places of worship (Baptist, Methodist and Reformed Judaism) in the precise relationship with civic life envisioned by the city’s founders. His design’s only idiosyncrasy was palm trees in the elevation drawings—highly questionable in Zone 5.
It was two or three years later, circa 2010, that a high tide of primitive religious sanctimony reared itself across America: building permits for new mosque construction in the U.S, they demanded, should be denied, even rescinded! Give “those people” a place to meet and identify with others of “their kind” and who knows what nefarious consequences might result. The same can be said, of course, for Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, Catholics, Quakers and other religious perspectives that conceive for themselves an annointed interest in public life. It seems particularly odd that I—a certified, card-carrying unbeliever—have imagined this community of Agincourt and invested a spiritual diversity resonant with the American spirit at the founding of our country.
So what’s going on in Agincourt today on the tenth anniversary of WTC? A public assembly on The Square, with traffic blocked so the crowd can be seated on Broad Street (and thereby incommode those for whom the day is like all others; nothing special). Speechifying done; children’s essays and poems read and consigned to history’s catecombs; the notes of bands and choirs fading into dusk; Civil Religion confused and conflated with denominational doctrine, the citizens of Agincourt step back into normal lives that are hardly normal and, perhaps, never will be again.
It’s the new Normal and we’re not used to it yet.