How to memorialize 9/11
Sep 9, 2010

How to memorialize 9/11

Every year we get the opportunity to memorialize the horrific tragedy of the 9/11 attacks. However, it is important to remember not just the event itself but also what resulted from, and what led to it.  9/11 is more than just some 3000 dead people and their families for it has intrinsically and intimately shaped the last nine years of our history and touched the lives of far more than ever died in the event itself in some of the most remote corners of the globe. I look at what resulted and preceded this event and how we can properly memorialize it, learn from it and move towards a better and more tolerant world.

We must remember how 9/11 sparked the global war on terror, with the first direct action the international war in Afghanistan which quickly provided the momentum for a second war in Iraq. More western lives have been lost in these wars than in 9/11 itself. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have lost their lives in these conflicts, millions have been displaced and exist in among the most marginal conditions in the world, trillions of dollars were spent. None of these factors are reversing themselves today. The global war spilled out of these theaters into covert attacks on elements in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries and we now begin to focus our attentions myopically on Iran.   We must remember how our civil liberties have been stripped and how torture, rendition, the suspension of haebus corpus, and the use of black sites all came with that momentum in the war on terror that 9/11 sparked.

9/11 unfortunately sparked far more than just war. Islamaphobia took off domestically as well, helped heavily by the mainstream media which took the word "terrorist" (implicitly, muslim terrorists) and through constant and widespread usage turned it into a cultural meme as the primary thing for us all to fear and to accept any and all consequences in the fight against us. It isn't just the big headlined stories, discussed further below, such as the immense opposition to the ground zero mosque or the international Koran hiring day, it is all the little ones like the Florida mosque bombing, the Tennessee burning of a future mosque site or the NYC knife attack on a Muslim taxi driver. A recent poll suggest nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. For all those who harbor persisting resentment, distrust, fear or even all out bigotry against Islam and Muslims so to is this a part of the 9/11 legacy.

How then should we memorialize 9/11 appropriately? We must remember not just the one horrific event but all those horrific events that followed it. We must remember not just the loss of lives in 9/11 but all those - Christian and Muslim alike - who lost their lives as a result of 9/11s consequences. Most of all, we must remember that 9/11 was made possible by intolerance and violence and that to truly honour 9/11 we must remember now and at all times to promote tolerance and acceptance, and to condemn and shy away from violence and its usage all around the world.

Today our headlines are dominated by attempts to restrict the constitutional right and fundamental American value of freedom of religion by preventing a Muslim group from opening a community center which includes interfaith and 9/11 memorial components at a distance away from ground zero that includes religious buildings of other faiths and, of course, strip clubs. Shockingly, a recent poll suggests perhaps 68% of Americans are in opposition to this. How are we honoring the 9/11 memory of tolerance and acceptance of all people, when we blatantly condemn these basic rights? As we seek to sanctify the memory of 9/11, let us do it in a way that doesn't exclude Muslims who also lost loved ones the most basic right to pray nearby the same way Christians and Jews have that right. The other big current "muslim" story is the irrelevant, bigoted pastor wishing to burn the Koran's whose message is getting splashed around the international stage as we all pat ourselves on the back for condemning his blatant intolerance. What is interesting is how the way he memorializes 9/11 and the rhetoric of justification for his actions based on the tragedy of 9/11 is not so very different than many have used before him. As we remember 9/11, let it not be with any thoughts of hatred or even merely discomfort towards a religion of 1.6 billion people that the 19 terrorists were an irrelevant component of, let it be out of respect for the lives lost both in and after 9/11.

Finally, we should recall not just what happened after 9/11, but what preceded it and what motivated it. I should be painfully clear, there is absolutely no justification or sympathy possible for the actions of Osama bin Laden, but that said, there can be understanding of the reasons he claims to have done it and an acknowledgement of the veracity of at least some of those reasons. His fatwa's and letters are readily available (such as here), yet few are aware of many of the reasons he gives. Contrary to the implication's in Bush's state of the union address, the attack was not because they "hate our freedoms". Instead, we see a pattern of complaints about American hegemony and imperialism in the middle east such as propping up corrupt dictatorships in places like his home country of Saudi Arabia that oppress their people and steal their wealth. I select one small quote for interest:
" You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down"
What is being referenced is the series of sanctions against iraq and agreements such as the "Oil for Food" initiative during the 90's under Clinton where UN estimates the death toll to children (age 4 of younger) being in the 0.5 to 0.75 million range, comparable to his claims. While they do not in any way justify his actions, the horrific effects of this hegemonic regime on Iraq are legitimate and when we remember 9/11 we should not just consider the horrors that occurred that day nor just the horrors that resulted from it but also the horrors that preceded it.

May all who died - during, subsequently and before 9/11 in the horrors of war, intolerance and bigotry - rest in peace.

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