“I found a religion that blended scientific reason with spiritual reality in a unifying faith far removed from the headlines of violence, destruction, and terrorism.” – Yousuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, commenting on becoming a Muslim
Anniversaries are important. The past should be remembered, and those who have been lost to this world ought not be lost to our memories. The problem with some anniversaries, however, is they often transform our recollections into inaccurate emotional jumbles which draw our focus away from many important factors. I want to take a minute to reflect on the day the twin towers were attacked, and on the events which followed.
To begin with, many people assume that Bin Laden was behind the attacks of September 11th. Now, I am not one to believe in conspiracy theories. On the other hand, I am also not one to buy into speculative likelihoods. After all, both are based upon faulty logical grounds. That being said, it is important to note that there is no confirmed evidence which confirms Bin Laden as the mastermind of the attacks. In fact, the only confirmed comments by Bin Laden we have regarding the attacks are statements he made to Al-Jazeera a couple days following the attack, in which he expressly denied any involvement. I don’t know if I believe him, but I don’t know if I don’t believe him either. U.S. armed forces claim to have found a tape in a home in Jalalabad which records Bin Laden confessing to the attacks. The authenticity of this tape is under tremendous contention. It further doesn’t make sense that Bin Laden would record such a confession after the United States had invaded Afghanistan, and after he had already denied involvement. I am not saying that Bin Laden did not orchestrate the attacks. Rather, I am saying that I do not know if he had any hand in them. Rather, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a confirmed architect of the attacks, should have been the main target of the manhunt which led to the uprooting of an entire civilian population.
The point of this discussion is not to suggest that someone else committed the attacks, but rather to highlight how anger, shock, and fear can contribute to the acceptance of almost anything as valid truth. These emotions led us into Iraq. They led us to sanction North Korea. And they may lead us toward military action in Iran. The instinct to lash out in understandable, but also very dangerous. We must learn to always question what is around us, to approach what people tell us with speculative curiosity. Our minds should be open, but they should not be gullible.
Many people assume that the people committing terrorist attacks across the world hate Western ideals. They hate our liberties and our way of life. They hate the color of our skin, think we are the devil, and want to kill us. We must remember that, while this may be true for some, it is not true for the vast majority. Our “enemies” have no grievance against little Jimmy Smith living in a suburb in Idaho. No, they have a grievance against the government which deposes their leaders and causes military disruptions on their soil. We experienced 9/11 on one day and have not experienced a similar attack since. Remember that the people in these conflict regions experiences similar tragedies and emotions every day of their lives. They genuinely must fear if the next bomb will land on their roof. They hear about their neighbors being killed, or worse; they see their neighbors killed in front of their own eyes. It is important to remember the firefighters, medical responders, and officers who responded to the 9/11 attacks. But it is also important to remember that other countries also have similar responders, and they must deal with similar situations every day.
It further troubles me when people thank the military forces in these regions for protecting American liberty and freedom. Instead of thanks, these soldiers should receive our apologies. We should apologize that we allow our government to send these brave men and women to fight for…well, who knows for what. They are not making sacrifices for our protection. That is what they signed up to do, but not what their current duties entail. Rather, they are being sent to their deaths for reasons which are unknown to them. The ones who are fortunate enough to live through their service are leading increasingly difficult lives plagued by PTSD and other issues resulting from the actions they were forced to commit. To top it off, they do not receive the care and compensation they deserve after providing their service. I do not blame them, nor can I justify blaming them. Although, I do not remember them as heroes. I remember them as tragedies, as the victims of murder. On this anniversary, it is even more important that we not lose the courage to criticize our government when it conducts operations which unjustifiably lead to the deaths of our soldiers.
Death tolls of 9/11 place the number somewhere around 3,000. My number is several hundred thousand. The Afghani, Iraqi, and Pakistani civilians who have died as a result of military response to 9/11 cannot be excluded from this total. The U.S., English, Canadian, Pakistani, Finn, Swiss, French, Spanish, and numerous other soldiers who have died as a result of the military response to 9/11 cannot be excluded either. Let us not make the mistake of forgetting all the people we have killed to avenge the attack on our soil. These people did not harm us in any way. They had nothing to do with 9/11. They were victims of the same tragedy that befell the United States, but unlike those who died in the towers, they did not have to be. To put it in more stark terms, ask yourself if any of the victims of the tower attacks would want other innocent civilians to die. How many grieving families would be comforted by the escalation of a global conflict? We claim to be fighting for security. Have these conflicts made us more secure? Do you feel safer now that the United States has invaded two countries in the Middle East? How many people felt avenged the day Bin Laden was killed? And how many people feared an immediate increase in terrorist violence?
Ten years ago on this day, the United States experienced an unprecedented attack on its own soil. It was shocking, infuriating, and tragic. In our fervor, we made terrible decisions. We supported a government which, over the course of 10 years, enacted policies leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. These same policies burned 1.5 trillion dollars, contributing to one of the largest economic collapses in U.S. history. These policies have lost us allies, resources, and the lives of our citizens. Yes, the past is important to remember. But, it is not worth remembering if we do not learn from it. Take this day to not only reflect on the tragedy of that day, but to learn from it. Expand your understanding of the world and the people inhabiting it. Have the courage to speak out against injustice. Be a citizen of the world, instead of just a citizen of the United States.