I wanted to ignore that today is 9/11.
That may sound cold and uncaring. I don’t mean it to be. I never wanted to ignore the pain of those who lost loved ones that day. Or of those first responders and eye witnesses whose lives were forever altered by trauma. I wanted to avoid the blind patriotism and cries for vengeance that far too often come with the remembering.
As Chris Hedges so astutely notes “the ceremonies of remembrance were skillfully hijacked by the purveyors of war and hatred. They became vehicles to justify doing to others what had been done to us. And as innocents died here, soon other innocents began to die in the Muslim world. A life for a life. Murder for murder. Death for death. Terror for terror.”
It is that justification for war and hatred I wanted to avoid by ignoring the day.
Regardless, I couldn’t ignore it. Lives lost to hatred, violence and intolerance deserve recognition.
Driving to a local coffee shop I pass so many American flags. I settle in to a back table, coffee and lap top at hand I hop on FB wanting to send a quick “thank you“, a “happy birthday” and a few “hellos” before getting down to the task at hand. More flags, and pictures of the twin towers replace the smiling faces of family and those I grew up with in profile thumbnails.
It seems that at the same time my heart will not let me ignore the day, neither will the world around me. So many posts of “we will never forget” mixed in with posts from friends in the peace and justice community noting the many innocent lives lost in the US response to the Sept 11th attacks. So many noting where they were and what they were doing when the planes struck the towers 10 years ago today. Many asking if I remember where I was and what I was doing.
Of course I do.
I was working for the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice at the time, getting ready for folks to arrive for our steering committee meeting. The pastor of the church that housed our office came down to tell me what was going on. We turned on the TV and watched in horror as others from the steering committee arrived and joined us huddled around the TV — many of us trying to reach family, friends and loved ones to assure they were safe.
I remember my heart kept calling my brain to think of a young woman I had met in a racial justice dialogue group a few months before. An Arab American she spoke during our group about being a student when another terrorist attack occurred, the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. She said that within hours of the Oklahoma City bombing she was hearing racial slurs and threats. She wondered at the fact that when it ended up being 2 white guys home grown here in Michigan who were responsible no one at blamed “the rest of the white guys” in her school.
She was now a college student. Pulling myself away from the group gathered together I called her. She thanked me for calling, her voice quiet. She said it had already started. The name calling, the comments of “go home” and assumptions about her religion and her feelings about America. She said she didn’t want to leave her dorm room.
I remember thinking “we all needed time to morn” — and feeling angry that there wouldn’t be time. If the racism, profiling and Islamaphobia we were already seeing and if the fear that this woman was feeling within minutes was any indication of things to come there was work to be done. And it needed to be done quickly. It was work that couldn’t’ wait while we mourned.
And I remember feeling afraid. Not afraid of another terrorist attack, but honestly and deeply fearful of how our government would respond. Sick by the horror I was witnessing I was also sick at the thought of the horror that would follow if we (as I feared we would ) used this as an excuse for more violence. More lives lost. More trauma. More victims. I was grateful to be in a room with others who felt the same way and although it felt like no where near enough I was glad when we drafted a statement calling for justice and peace rather than blind retaliation and vengeance
Sadly, my fear was not unfounded. In the past decade the US has embraced vengeance and multiple wars. We’ve seen attacks on our civil liberties, racism and hate crimes increase, surveillance of citizens considered part of the norm, and I‘ve learned a whole new vocabulary of things that as an American I am ashamed and angry about … the Patriot Act, debates about when (as if ever) torture is “justified”, waterboarding, drones, Abu Ghraib… We’ve seen the deaths of not only thousands of Iraqi and Afghani soldiers and civilians but also senseless death of American military men and women in both in unnecessary wars and by suicide. It is heartbreaking. It is frightening. It is simply wrong.
Just think of the message that we could have sent . What would it say to the world if we would have said this nation will no longer target civilians, or accept any policy by any nation which targets civilians. This would mean an end to the sanctions that were then being used against the people of Iraq, It would have meant holding accountable Henry Kissenger and graduates of the School of Americas responsible for another 9/11 attack. – the Sept 11, 1973 Chilean Coup in which President Salvador Allende was overthrown and hundreds of thousands of chileans were tortured and murdered – 3200 during the coup, countless others in the following decades . It would mean not only condemning terrorist attacks by Palestinians but also the terrorism of occupation, of assassination of Palestinian leadership, the settler attacks against Palestinians while Israel soldiers stand by and watch, the ruthless bombing and brutal blockade of Gaza.
What message could we have sent to the world if we “the most powerful nation” abandoned retaliation and violence and instead started down a difficult path to real justice and peace born of reconciliation and transformation. What lessons could we learn and teach if we, as a nation, had put our resources not toward more violence and horror but toward building real alternatives to militarism and war.
And so today, I remember. And I mourn. I mourn for those lives lost on 9-11, and for all those lives taken because of hatred, fear, greed, war, intolerance and oppression. And I mourn a missed opportunity to change things.