It’s 9/11 again

So it’s 9/11 (I guess actually 9/12 as I write this) today, and this date will come around every year for…well as long as we have calendars, and so I think its time to think seriously about what this day means.

The goal in this post is to question what it means to remember or forget a day of national tragedy, and what we should be doing when we do properly remember. There are those who understandably grow tired of the endless flag-waving and sometimes hypocritical remembrance speeches that float around on the anniversary of 9/11. And so these people come up with snide, inflammatory posts like this. I sympathize but don’t agree. The point about 9/11 doesn’t have anything to do with the body-count, as if you could weigh up the dead and dismiss the event once one sees that it pales in comparison to highway deaths or some other trivial category that doesn’t involve malice or civilizations.

But then there are people on the other side of things who want to keep recycling 9/11 imagery and emotivism forever. If it were always Christmas, there would be no joy in the holiday (and already the joy is leaving that holiday and is being replaced by stress as the season becomes extended for longer and longer), and in the same way, there is no solemnity to remembering 9/11 if it is always 9/11. If we’re always remembering, then we aren’t remembering, cause the idea of the tragedy never left our consciousness.

But ok, caricatures and extremists aside. When the day actually roles around (like now) and we’re faced with a question about how to respond, then what to do? First, what does it mean to remember a day? Was it enough that I saw a flag at half mast today, wondered why, and then said to myself “o yea…” and then became quiet while I stared at it flapping in the wind. Did I remember 9/11 then?

Or is there something substantive position that is required for me to remember that day? If I believe that the mosque being built at the 9/11 site is acceptable, have I forgotten, or I have remembered and merely drawn a different conclusion from that remembrance? If I believe that a better system of justice for people being held at Guantanamo Bay must be devised, have I forgotten, or remembered in a different way. Anytime the memory of a historical event is leveraged to support certain positions of policies, I think something has gone creepily wrong with the political culture. The event points out a problem, but the cause of it and the right response to take can’t be inferred simply from that happening. It’s just hocus-pocus to think that events somehow, in themselves, foreclose the options of response that we should or should not consider.

If that’s true though — that one cannot infer a policy ought from a historical did-happen — then its just bizarre that our POLITICAL culture even considers the day at all. I’m not saying its bizarre that we remember the day and treat it, rightfully, with due reverence. What I’m saying is that its strange to me that the date, September 11 is mentioned in political skirmishes about the Cordoba house and the book burning, etc. etc.

Newt Gingrich, in a move that partially confirms my going theory that most Republicans aren’t Islamaphobes, condemned the planned book burning in Gainesville, but as always, he took two steps forward and one step back by linking his criticism with the withdraw of the Cordoba house from lower Manhattan. Big mistake. Whatever anyone thinks about the Cordoba house, there should be no conditioning or compromise when it comes to the intimidation and naked discrimination on display with book burning. Anyone and everyone has reason to condemn that action.

So what all this leads to is my sloppy critique of the hyper-public world we live in. Why does something like 9/11 deserve coverage of any kind, other than the kind which would remind us of it? A simple “9/11 happened today” seems to be the only thing that is justified. We can all remember on our own and in our own consciousnesses. Anything else risks manipulation, trivialization, and political gamesmanship.

I would say that the book burning too is something that should have never even been discussed, except that it seems like in the end, the national spotlight was for the better since this pastor canceled the burning. Score one for our democratic culture I guess; it hasn’t had a victory in a while, so I’m going to remember 9/11 that way, as a symbol of the enduring power of our collective moral conscience.


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