I can remember the morning quite vividly. Walking into our kitchen after school, I saw my mother crying with her face against the table and the television on. I asked my mother why she was crying and she responded, “Terrorists attacked us!”
This puzzled me because I could not understand why tourists would attack anyone.
For many people growing up in this period, September 11th was a critical experience of their childhood. It was the first real introduction to other cultures, geo-politics, and “terrorism” which came to define the contemporary era. And this is unimaginably important in the composition of children and their social attitudes. How they begin to see themselves within the world is constructed and defined at a very young age. As time goes on, they begin to refine these thoughts largely according to how they were socialized early on. If your first introduction to the non-familiar world is one of fear and resentment, then it becomes difficult to break that chauvinist world-view as you mature. This is the sort of experience so many American children have had of the Middle East especially white children and it does not bode well regarding any progressive potential for them in the future.
The first day of school after those events, my social studies class was teeming with kids wanting to know more about “the terrorists”. Where were they from? Why did they want to “hurt us”? Why did they hate us so much?
My teacher’s response was that of every teacher’s response. It was the response handed down from the heights of the ideology as manifested within the state. The response which characterized a generation of thought, self-reflection, and attitudes toward the world and “our place within it”.
“Because they hate your freedoms.”
Looking back, many of us see how asinine a response that was. Clearly, the matter was far more complex and grounded in a long history of conflict and contradiction; from the neocolonial presence of the West within the Middle East and Africa to the specific geopolitical manuevering of American imperialism against Arab self-determination (emboldening radical islamist groups).
However, the response was also ingenius. Suddenly, an entire generation of children and their parents are enveloped into this social body of “exceptionalism” (read: imperialism). We have “freedom”. We have power. We are better. And it’s only understandable that the uncivilized and inferior hordes of humanity would become jealous of our success. Suddenly, everyone and anyone becomes a soldier for imperialism at the level of ideological hegemony: even better than a poor draft!
13 years after the fact, we are still “remembering 9/11”. But what does that really mean? What and who are we remembering?
Certainly, there is a level of humanity which should be shown in light of these events. It only takes a few anecdotes and suddenly we are able to relate to this suffering on a very personal level; mothers losing their sons, children losing their parents, brothers and sisters forever separated, lovers and partners gone in an instant. However, is this really all we are “remembering”?
If we are simply remembering the tragedy of human loss, then I would invite everyone to remember the human loss following September 11, 2001.
Remember the Invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when Western troops marched across the country destroying much of the infrastructure and killing tens of thousands of afghans in the process? Children who awoke to their doors being kicked in by white demons, yelling and screaming in a tongue totally unfamiliar. Mothers who had to walk their children down the street alongside harrassing soldiers on tanks, clogging up the roadways. An ongoing occupation which has been almost universally condemned. Who will remember this?
Remember the Invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Western troops burned their way into Baghdad overthrowing the current goverment at the time (according to suspicions which were later proven false)? People burnt to death by white phosphorous dropped nearly from the fires of hell onto their innocent homes. Civilians who were gunned down with depleted uranium. A host of brutal sectarian violence which ensued during and after the chaotic invasion. Many observers place the death toll within the hundreds of thousands. An occupation which “ended” but as of recent events may soon resume. Who will remember this?
What about the children murdered by US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and occupied zones? What about the women raped by US soldiers, the civilians tortured and detained without charge, the immeasurable destruction to the livelihood of so many millions of people?
What about that human loss?
Forgive the endless string of rhetorical questions, but certainly if all of this hoopla regarding September 11th is truly about “respecting a tragedy” then at what point do we make tragedies exclusively an American experience?
“Remembering 9/11” has nothing to do with human loss. It has nothing to do with tragedy. It’s just an ideological ritual.
It gives the United States and other Western powers a moral insurance on their neocolonial and imperialist actions. So that when someone looks at their television and sees the utter desolation of some ‘far off land’ they can simply reassure themselves “that is justice for 9/11!”
But perhaps the formula is even more sinister. The events of 9/11 and how they have been narrated to the broader public induces a sense of political and social apathy for the ‘other’. Why should we care about the death of ‘those people’? It’s endemic to their political condition. Perhaps if they simply had “freedom” they could live a better life, a life more like ours.
The only authentic political and cultural existence is that of the American, the exceptional way of life and body of interactions which makes us American, and 9/11 was a blow to that sense of self. Not in the reflective sense, but in a rallying sense. Now, the board is defined, the characters are set in place, the objectives have never been more clear: we have to defend ourselves and our way of life from “them”.
There’s nothing more spectacular than seeing a “rememberance demonstration” or a “soldier appreciation”. Everyone comes wearing their commemorative camoflauge, waving their american flags, singing the national anthem, kissing and hugging their “service men”. After all, they fight for our freedom. They are keeping us safe. It’s truly a poetic display and emotionally charged but in a sense also missing everything characteristic about a military event.
The emphasis is not on national interests, it’s on “freedom”. The soldiers are not hardened killing machines, they are lovable, approachable compatriots. The mission isn’t to stratify a portion of the globe, it is to defend the interests of humanity!
So is any of this still about remembering human loss? Or is out about glorifiying this image of imperialism as a world charity?
Some may take great offense to this. But the United States is a world historic imperialist power. A nation founded by rich white male landholders, built off the enslavement (and genocide) of black and indigenous peoples, defined by an unbridled thirst for economic conquest – the same nation which has an official holiday celebrating a genocidal slaveholder – and therefore has no right to speak about “offensive material”.
To be completely frank with the situation, I hate the “remembrance of 9/11”. It makes my blood boil with a mix of anger and hopeless frustration. I cringe when I see the American flags along the roadway; when someone hands me an event invitation; when I’m encouraged to pause and have a “moment of silence”.
I would hope anyone with any remote knowledge of the situation would feel the same or could perhaps relate. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead because of the United States; thousands of children who will never have an adulthood; orphanages overflowing with broken families; thousands who are still detained and being tortured at this very moment. And you want me to “remember 9/11”? I refuse to give my consent to more troops, more bombings, more “interventions”, more “tactical strikes”, more death and oppression.
The oppressed and exploited people of the world have nothing in common with this social body of imperialist terorrism – and that is what it is, terrorism. If anything, the oppressed and exploited are those being bombed, having their doors kicked in, having family members and friends kidnapped or violated on a whim.
If you truly want to “remember 9/11”, then remember those victims of imperialism who also paid the price for “your freedom”. If you simply would like to reflect on the tragedy, the loss of human life, then I would invite you to make that reflection an inclusive one. Don’t stop at the victims of the planes; give thought to the victims of the drones, the door-to-door raids, the people detained, humiliated, and tortured at no fault of their own.
Human suffering is primarily a human experience, not an American experience, not a “patriotic plea”, and it deserves more than apathy. Take time today to remember the victims of Western imperialism and have solidarity with those still living under that occupation.