Pundits, journalists, and lay-people across the United States will put their fingers to the keyboard today to commemorate the events in New York eleven years ago, with some mention of a flight over Pennsylvania and another around the US government’s Pentagon building. I commend everyone who offers something thoughtful or even sentimental today, understanding that I cannot do so because it has never been my story. I was not there.
I cannot bring myself to even speak about this day since someone in a public relations department somewhere decided to start calling it “Patriot Day”. This distasteful misnomer taps into all my bitter feelings toward the United States and everything that has transpired since September 11th, 2001. My heart goes out to the misguided men who hijacked the planes, mostly because I know too little will be said about the sacredness of their lives. Someone will lament their ruin and speculate how they became so ‘twisted’ and ‘violent’ but fewer will wonder what state our soldiers are in and, for God’s sake, why. ‘Twisted’ is what other people’s heroes are called. It seems to me that we put soldiers on pedestals but cannot be bothered to leave our delusions of “patriotism” when they become (killers?) veterans, unemployed and misunderstood. I might be a pacifist but I know pretty well that people at ‘home’ do not always “get it”. It’s one thing soldiers and missionaries can count on having in common.
At the same time, none of us get it. I will be lucky if people who grew up in countries like Afghanistan read this entry and comment ~ even to criticize. These men were not outright twisted by hatred or religious doctrine but had to be primed first. It amazes me how so-called Americans can assume it’s something in Islam or the culture of a place that brings people to become suicide bombers. It’s actually most of the same things that brought me to be a missionary: unemployment, misery, lack of marriage prospects and, the missing factor in my case, lack of perspective. In short, isolation with no prospects or certainty. Foreign powers are happy to fund extremists carrying out their agendas and, when those mangy dogs bite the hand that fed them (like Al-Qaeda did in 2001) its a perfect opportunity for colonialist governments to meddle. This is the part where I could rant about the nonsustainability of these policies, the futility of violence, and all of my usual fodder. Israel especially (naturally). If I rant about governments, it means I have fallen into the same trap.
The lives of these men were over before they began thanks to dictators and oligarchs who mushroomed in post-colonial power vacuums. Who will wonder, with me, how these men might have been farmers or business-people on a revived silk road? Who will mourn the families they never had or, heaven forbid, left because they believed in their cause? Who will lament with me that Osama Bin Laden’s stance on the West was VINDICATED by US military responses, even if his methods were vile? Remember… the counter attack and initial attack are effectively the same because someone else always ‘did it first’. “Patriot Day” is a white-wash over that reality.
But what is really disgusting about “Patriot Day” is the way that it nationalized 9-11 as if it did not belong to New York City. Oklahoma City still mourns their bombing, though they did not provide such a tasty PR-op for Uncle Sam. The bombing has become part of the city’s collective consciousness, as 9-11 should be for New Yorkers. I am from Michigan and that day does not belong to me; the suffering in Detroit only vaguely belongs to me. It was Al-Qeada’s design to make their attack an international issue and the US was happy to oblige. People across the United States took 9-11 too personally, snatching it from the arms of those who were closest. Conflated with a sense of ‘patriotism’, the day has lost its ability to be a genuine remembrance. The US has painted over the subtle redemptive beauty of mourning with bright colors, as if the damage caused in the middle-East could redeem the damage done that day. It would be a very different story had the US been more dedicated to healing those hurt than avenging the dead. Only the people who lost loved ones should be free to take it personally; the rest of us need to find a more humble way to be in solidarity with them, one where we do not steal their pain to start competing for victimhood ourselves.
I say that we make it our “Remembrance Day” and hold it in honor of all civilian casualties, everywhere. I pray that we leave “patriotism” off our lips for the entire day. Nationalism, not just religion, is an opiate of the masses. When religion is divorced from racial and national moors, it can take us across borders. Spirituality can lend perspective. As for all the flag-waving, I do believe there are times and places but I think that 9-11 is not the right context to do anything with a flag except hang it at half-mast.