12 September 2010


Just for Reference: 1 September 2003

Just for reference, what I posted on 1 September 2003. Not that it is necessarily inconsistent with what I posted yesterday: Being aware of radical Islam as a threat to what we hold dear isn't the same thing as saying it's anything goes in the 9/11-memorialization department, which is not to say there were aspect of how to commemorate, in a positive sense, that I failed to address yesterday.

Contemporary comment in square brackets; e.g., [added on 12 September 2010].

I think 9/11 is still very very important to be aware of. I think that to the degree we try to pretend like enough time has elapsed that its impact isn't relevant at this time is not, in many senses, wise. I believe, unfortunately, that radical Islam would not stop even if it controlled Mecca and Medina and Jerusalem -- power corrupts, etc. -- and that many of those who believe that way will continue to threaten free peoples -- or North Americans and Europeans and substantial numbers of Asians and most Latin Americans these days and increasing numbers of Africans, and the Israelis, if you think we're just all controlled by the big corporations and that representative democracy is a sham. [I have no idea why "Israelis" isn't the end of that sentence. I couldn't tell you why the corporations/democracy line is there.]

Threaten with death. Threaten with destruction. Threaten with subjugation.

While our individual, national, and global pasts may have brought us to this point, with plenty of wrong, hateful, and stupid moves on everyone's parts since time immemorial, nothing in that past justifies the actions of radical Islam. Those who believe that way base what they are doing on their traditions and their book, just as radical Christians in the USA continue to attempt to justify wrongful attitudes towards some on the bases of their traditions and their book. Luckily we live in a part of the world where those radical Christians are restricted to some degree by other traditions and other texts, like, say, the US Constitution. But there's only a short step from vouchers to madrassas, so it could happen here if we're negligent.

Would/will those radical Christians try the same murderous tactics that the radical Islamicists do? Hopefully we never get to find out. But the radical Islamacists continue. Today, tomorrow, next week.

I don't think they should not be allowed to achieve their aims. I think that free individuals should be allowed to worship as they choose, but that aggresive religions -- like collectivist or totalitarian or facist political movements -- must be restricted, preferrably by custom but, if necessary, by law.

I regret that stopping them requires, at times, the use of physical violence. Or killing. I respect those who thoughtfully disagree with using so much or any force, but I prefer not to live in the first phases of several hundred years of a very dark age. Or that such an age come to be while we are alive to stop it.

N.B.: "Radical Islam" does not equal "Arab." [Or "Muslim."] Saying "the Arabs [Muslims] this, the Arabs [Muslims] that" is just as stupid as "the Jews this, the Jews that." It doesn't fit. At least take the effort to pin things down to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, the Egyptian government, [the Taliban -- we thought they were defunct -- the Pakistani intelligence agency,] etc. There is groupthink, but as long as there are individuals, attributing groupthink to attribute groups is, in fact, not accurate. Formal organizations with formal processes is one thing, but "the Jews," "the Arabs," "the Gays," etc. just doesn't cut it for me.

Exceptions matter.

Individuals matter. Individuals are all that matter, in the long run. Groups are just accidents of attributes that belong to individuals. Sorry if that is disrespectful to your individual traditions.

So don't forget 9/11. Don't forget that there really is a "they" out there that wants to kill "you." Just for being born where you were. Just for being who you are, whether that's American, gay, Jewish, or a female human who enjoys having sex. Much less all of the above.

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11 September 2010


Letting Go of 9/11

Knock knock.
Who's there?
9/11 who?
9/11 you said you'd never forget!
We're going today to a memorial service for my recently-departed friend Jim Swift. Jim called me on Memorial Day weekend to tell me they'd found two tumors in his liver, but that the doctor thought they would be able to excise them cleanly, and then his liver would grow back. A few weeks later, at the time of meeting with the doctor who'd do the surgery (if I'm recalling this correctly), Jim found out that there was a tumor at the back of his skull, too, so got a different doctor, and started a different set of treatments for that, first, since it had been pressing on nerves and causing headaches, speech issues, etc.

I thought the treatments were progressing, because he was able to play his guitar again, the thing beyond the people he loved that he cared about most, and he was planning on having a big party with all his friends. I was out of town in mid July when I got the word that he had passed away, and I still don't know details. I just know he's gone.

I'm glad to go to this memorial service today.

I have no intention of going to another one nine years from now.

I thought the world of Jim, and I know I'll remember him fondly now and then, but I wouldn't advise, even for his family and closer friends, keeping his memory alive beyond a quiet awareness of his having been with us, of what that meant to us.

So many of those lost on 11 September 2001 had no connection to the reasons we were attacked. Some—the firefighters and police in New York, military rescue personnel at the Pentagon, and those who bravely brought down United flight 93—died in valor, saving others' lives by rescue and by fighting back. Remembering them all is not without value.

But jacking that remembrance up, putting it on a pedestal, shining lights on it, standing back and looking at it, and bringing back the feelings of those times is not wise. It is not a sensible remembrance. It is pandering to our basest hair-pulling, garment-rending, flesh-tearing sensibilities.

Once, perhaps, yes; but not on an annual basis in perpetuity.

We don't need to treat 9/11 like the families who put "In loving memory..." stickers on their car, keeping the pain and the loss in attention rather than honoring the departed by using this short time on Earth productively. But we've lost a broad cultural sense of how to mourn, how to give families space to mourn for a year, how to welcome them back from that mourning in a gradual way. We're struggling in an age lacking consistent rituals in a multicultural society to honor birth and death and lifelong commitments.

It is time to move our thoughts about 9/11 to a better place every September. We will note the date, but there will come a day when we don't, and shouldn't, fly the flag at half staff. When we don't let demagogues speechify and dominate the airwaves with loony ideas. When we don't act the wounded victim time and time again.

It would be easier to let go had Bin Laden et al. been captured. That bungling can't be undone: only new operations challenging and attacking Al Queda can accomplish now what was not finished then.

How many times did your mother tell you, "Don't pick it until it bleeds"? We seem to have become a nation, like the drivers of the cars with the "In memory of..." stickers, picking constantly at the memory. Until it bleeds.

Do we really honor the departed by making a fetish of our loss?

Let's make next year, the tenth anniversary, the last year for five years that we make such a to-do about that horrible day in 2001. Let's honor the dead of that day, and of all days, by living our lives fully, not by a recurring focus on our loss.

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