What 9/11 Means to Me

Because I know that today the blogosphere will be saturated with such posts, I’ll add tags, but expect this will be just a small drop into a big ocean. I’ll link up here for certain friends or family, but by and large this will be a private piece.

I’ll start with the somewhat cliche, “Where were you on 11-9-01?” I was at the Michigan State library, for what purpose I don’t remember. I was in the main lobby, where there is an open computer lab, and I noticed there was a certain buzz going on. Student strangers don’t just talk to each other as they were. Although at that time there was still a lot of media confusion and I only heard “a plane flew into a building.” No one at the library was emotional–it was too bizarre at the time. I went straight home to my apartment, turned on the TV, and if my memory is right I did just at the moment when a live broadcast showed the second plane impact.

At the time I was a pretty entrenched “leftist.” I’d digested lots of Chomsky; I knew that my country had made a lot of enemies in the recent past. I knew that somehow this was meant to be a retaliation. Even before Bush made any declaration of war (which he never really did) at MSU an anti-war movement was already starting on 9/11.  My involvement in that remains one of the biggest “wake-up calls” of my political life.

Right from the start a lot of people criticized us. Many Lansing residents and soon the president told us that peace was an ineffective solution (to a problem no one could define?) While some of our ranks did cry for pacificism, I think most of us simply wanted the U.S. reaction–whatever it might be–to be informed, effective and in line with our values. And in that sense, we were often accused of championing that “America deserved it.” Or that if we “weren’t with [Bush and Pentagon] we were with the terrorists.”

That definitely cut me up. I was a silly “anarchist punk” at the time, and I certainly had a lot of un-nice things to say about America, but I and my peers had clear understanding that just because we felt America was a lot more violent and hostile than most our countrymen believed, that somehow the deaths of several thousand New Yorkers could stand in as a blood atonement was simply unthinkable. I have always hated murder.

To this day I don’t think that the country as a whole has been able to psychologically accept a careful analysis of the situation. Though the Old Testament-like rhetoric of the early Bush eras has fallen away some, nothing else has really taken the place of the “good vs. evil” explanation we started with. I think a straightforward, rational questioning of what lead to the event will be mainly a historian’s task. If you want a good book to read on the subject, Death’s Dream Kingdom by Richard Wolin.

For that reason, what I believe is an inability to take a sober look at the 9/11 event, this day continues to resist any sort of symbolization or greater meaning to me. Patriotism? For me the greatest civic duty in a democracy is for a citizen to step beyond the government’s messages and to be critical where necessary. I think it’s a true paradox, worthy of those of Christ and Buddha: to be patriotic one must lose one’s patriotism.

I also feel that this cannot become another Memorial or Veterans’ Day. The employees of the World Trade Center did not die in service to the country. It was a mass murder of (mostly) civilians. They were going to their daily jobs, not a front line. In my opinion, to retroactively label the murders as sacrifices in a war only leads to a final legitimization. Only then did they have to die.

There are so many reasons for us to think and talk. This is a time to think of history, foreign policy, national values, identity, etc. Not to be either all critical or blindedly defensive. 9/11 shocked everybody. Unless you’ve got no blood in you then the terrorist attacks in 2001 caused pain. But it’s nine years behind us; we can’t be emotional and angry forever. It’s not honoring the victims to be in a perpetual state of vengeance. Yet, we’re still failing to come to terms. Lately, the “post-9/11” climate is turning back to a good vs. evil event only now with America and Islam respectively as actors. Terry Jones is proof that delusion still mocks us. And the dying inertia of the war movement (to me) proves that deploying the army to put a bullet in every would-be terrorist is not a sane solution. Political demagogues, like my nemeses Beck and Palin, ask us to withdraw into some illusionary past and anti-democratic identities.

(Three hours later, an edit.) Why did I talk about 9/11 conspiracy theories in my first draft? Pointless! Better to say a quick piece about Islam. I am an outspoken and devoted friend to the Islamic faith. All my life I’ve had friends and neighbors as Muslims, I studied some Islamic theology and even briefly considered that I might be Sufi. All claims that Islam is generally a peaceful and tolerant religion are true. If it weren’t so then the ranks of terrorists would be a billion plus.

On days like this a lot of people are going to talk about “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamic fundamentalism.” And while not to distract from the reality of 9/11, the Madrid bombings and all, this would also be an excellent day to realize the absolute fact that, when it comes to the actions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, to also speak on behalf of “Islamic victims.” Terrorists don’t just kill Americans and Europeans.

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