Like so many Americans, and others around the globe, September 11th will for the rest of my life be the day the world changed.
Each year now we have our memorials and tributes and remembrances. We grab our flags and shed our tears for the fallen; we honor and praise our men and women of the armed forces, fighting and dying to keep us safe; we reflect on that horrible day in solemn contemplation of the world, our roles in it, and what we can do to make it better.
All of this is honorable and good.
Regrettably, much about 9-11, and much about our country eight years later, is not so honorable or good.
Although there’s been some correction, since 9-11 there has been a hard enough right turn in this country to keep me scared out of my wits. The neo-conservative movement and it’s acolytes have done all they could to criminalize dissent and criticism of the government (at least up to the point that ‘the government’ is a euphemism for ‘the Republican Party’ – there’s a glaring lack of restraint when it comes to criticizing our new, more moderate President). Still today, it’s easy to find knuckle-dragging “love it or leave it” responses to just about any criticism one might have of conservative principles.
We continue to furtively look the other way in response to egregious violations of our rights like warrantless wiretapping, search and seizure without probable cause, and imprisonment without charge. We wring our hands and cry “Not In My Back Yard” when the slightest suggestion comes up that the prisoners currently housed in Guantanamo Bay might be moved to a facility anywhere near us. We quietly ignore crimes committed by our intelligence and military agencies because “those bastards deserve it.”
It wasn’t that long ago that we were so frightened and credulous that we allowed a war to begin against a country and a regime that had nothing to do with 9-11 simply because they were a middle-eastern country that was hostile towards us. It wasn’t that long ago that some 60% of us claimed to believe that Iraq was directly involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, even though there has never been a shred of evidence to support that assertion, and ultimately even the people who created that lie, especially former vice-president Dick Cheney, were forced to recant the lie unambiguously in public.
And even while recanting the lie, they continued telling it, and we continued believing it. Some of us still believe it.
I love my country, and it breaks my heart to see what we’ve become.
There are no memorials for the Indian and Arabic people who were beaten and in some cases killed in the wake of 9-11 simply for committing the crime of being brown in America. This is a catastrophic failure of ethics on our part.
Some of the mistakes we’ve made are slowly correcting themselves. I’d wager that it will be a long, long time before our Congress grants another president the kind of blank check that George W. Bush enjoyed from 9/11 until around the end of 2004. This is a good thing.
But so many things…aren’t so good. Even today, anti-immigrant sentiment remains at a fever pitch; even today, the quickest way to kill a political movement is to suggest that it will somehow benefit “them,” where “them” is “not us.” Illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, the unemployed, the poor, the homeless, gays, blacks, Jews, Arabs, Muslims. Even today, any person who “looks like an Arab” strikes fear into the hearts of every other person involved every time they step on a plane.
And the worst is that we’ve grown this insane crop of flag-waving paranoiacs who will jump on any bandwagon no matter how ignorant, wrong-headed, or just plain nuts – cf. “Obama not eligible to be President,” or more recently “Obama wants to kill Sarah Palin’s baby” – as long as some slick jive-talking politician is willing to cast those aspersions with the overt or covert suggestion that they might not be “one of us.” Bringing an assault weapon to a presidential speech? Really?
These are not healthy expressions of our freedom; they are unhealthy, embarrassing, and sickening expressions of our abject fear that maybe we aren’t indestructible after all; that maybe our safe little world of Starbucks and Wal-Mart and Pier One Imports and Fredrick’s of Hollywood and big shiny rich white churches that worship a big shiny rich white God may not, after all, be invulnerable.
Today, on the eighth anniversary of the terrorists attacks that changed the world, I’d like to think that the following might start sinking in:
As long as getting on a plane from Detroit to New York takes longer than actually flying from Detroit to New York; as long as manipulative and cynical politicians can stoke opposition to our current president with spurious claims that he’s a secret Muslim or not a ‘real’ US citizen; as long as one of us gets nervous when anyone with dark hair and a deep tan gets on a plane with us; as long as we continue to be distracted and divided by fear and fearmongering rather then coming together as ONE nation – and keep your “God” to yourself, thank you – to work towards the common good of all people; as long as our media continues to treat the most outrageous and insane points of view as valid and deserving of ‘equal time’; as long as idiots like Glenn Beck and Michael Savage can hold market share by playing on our fears of Islam, blacks, Arabs, foreigners, gays, non-Christians, and the rest of “them”; as long as we continue to cheerfully abdicate our freedoms in the hope of regaining an artificial sense of security and safety that we never should have been lulled into to begin with: the terrorists are still winning.
We’re all in this together, folks. The way to win against terror is not to terrorize others, but to refuse to be terrorized, and thus far we have failed miserably in that regard.
When our memorials and remembrances of 9-11 include celebrations of peace, harmony, brotherhood, unity, and the kind of love for our friends and our enemies that was so eloquently espoused by the same Jesus that 90% of us in the US claim to worship – the same “Christ” who gave us the rules and precepts of our so-called “Christian nation” - then maybe we’ll be getting somewhere.
When we understand how so many of our current attitudes and actions are a desecration of the memories of those who have fought and died for our freedom, then perhaps we can start seeing tributes and memorials worthy of the name and worthy of those we seek to immortalize with them.
My thoughts and sympathy are with anyone who lost a loved one in the 9/11 attacks or in the events that have transpired as a result. My “memorial” to them is my refusal to cave in to fear; I will not stop being who I am or believing what I believe simply because some nutjob hates me for it, regardless of whether that nutjob is named Ahmed or Bubba. My tribute to the victims and heroes of 9-11 and beyond is to continue to refuse to be terrorized by fundamentalist Islamic nutjobs from Afghanistan or fundamentalist nutjob Christians from Albuquerque. My remembrance is in the way I live my life – freely, without irrational fear, and without turning my back on the freedom they die for just so I can kid myself into thinking my country and I are indestructible or infallible.
The way to win the war on terror is to live free and refuse to allow our hearts to be led by fear.