I can't think what to say about 9/11. I just can't. The combination of the fact that it's still raw for me, my anger at the uses to which the murder of so many people has been put, and my near-despair about our inability to deal honestly with the war in Iraq seems to have left me without words. So I'll just excerpt a passage from an article by Gary Kamiya. He's arguing that racism played a crucial role in our response to 9/11, by allowing us to conflate basically everyone in the Middle East in a way we would never conflate, say, everyone in Latin America or East Asia. And I think he's exactly right:
"The angry bigotry that drove the war rings out loud and clear in the right-wing battle cry: "They attacked us, so we had to attack them." The recent TV ads run by war supporters repeat this theme: "They attacked us," a narrator says as an image of the burning World Trade Center appears. "They won't stop in Iraq." The key word here, of course, is "they." Just who is "they"? For Bush's die-hard supporters, "they" simply means "Arabs and Muslims." Cretinous rabble-rousers like Ann Coulter and Michael Savage play to this crowd, demanding that we nuke the evil ragheads. For the establishment, "they" is not quite so explicitly racist. "They" refers not to all Arabs and Muslims, but only to the "bad" ones. The "bad" guys include al-Qaida, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the militant Palestinians. And, of course, it used to include Iraq (and may again). Anyone who makes this list is eligible for attack by the U.S.
What makes these wildly disparate entities so evil and so threatening that we're prepared to attack them without cause? Simply that they reject the U.S.-Israeli writ in the Middle East -- and that they're Arabs or Muslims. They are clearly not on our side, but they pose no significant military or economic threat to the U.S. In realpolitik terms, they are no more beyond the pale than many other dubious countries we do business with, from Venezuela to Nigeria to Russia to Saudi Arabia. No one would dream of suggesting that if Cuba attacked the U.S., we should respond by invading Venezuela. But we play by different rules in the Middle East. (...)
One of the neocons' main goals in invading Iraq was to "remake the Middle East" -- a weirdly grandiose, imperialist concept of the sort that doesn't apply anywhere except with Muslims. Only in the Middle East do lofty historical generalizations about why a world culture went wrong -- like those of the right-wing Arabist and White House favorite Bernard Lewis -- provide the intellectual underpinnings for unprovoked wars. Yes, the Arab-Muslim world has some serious problems, and yes, only a politically correct pedant would forbid all cultural generalizations. But when you go to war on the basis of those generalizations, you cross the line into colonialist prejudice.
The most lofty, abstract generalization of all is the insistence that this is a war of good vs. evil. "They" attacked us not because they had grievances or for any reasons that exist in the sublunary realm: They attacked simply because they were evil. Saddam would do the same because he, too, like Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, was evil. The "war on terror" is a crusade, a Holy War, whose essentially theological nature was summed up by the title of Richard Perle and David Frum's book, "An End to Evil." And once you're dealing with "evil," niggling distinctions -- between Sunni and Shiite, or secular and religious, or whether the country you want to invade had anything to do with attacking you -- can be dispensed with.
The failure of the American establishment to question such ideas, and its willingness to sign off on a war based on them, amounts to a kind of de facto bigotry: Kill one Arab, send a message to the rest of 'em. Attacking Iraq because of 9/11 made about as much sense as attacking Mozambique after the Watts riots. If we had done something that insane, we would be accused of being racists. We wouldn't be able to shake the accusation, no matter how much gobbledygook apologists came up with about bursting a "terrorism bubble" or the "pathologies of black culture." But when America did something equally insane and attacked Iraq in response to 9/11, no one accused it of racism. Instead, we got a lot of sophistry about "Islamofascism" and other Aquinas-like attempts to make 99 virgins dance on the head of a Baathist.
Sept. 11 was a hinge in history, a fork in the road. It presented us with a choice. We could find out who attacked us, surgically defeat them, address the underlying problems in the Middle East, and make use of the outpouring of global sympathy to pull the rest of the world closer to us. Or we could lash out blindly and self-righteously, insist that the only problems in the Middle East were created by "extremists," demonize an entire culture and make millions of new enemies.
Like a vibration that causes a bridge to collapse, the 9/11 attacks exposed grave weaknesses in our nation's defenses, our national institutions and ultimately our national character. Many more Americans have now died in a needless war in Iraq than were killed in the terror attacks, and tens of thousands more grievously wounded. Billions of dollars have been wasted. America's moral authority, more precious than gold, has been tarnished by torture and lies and the erosion of our liberties. The world despises us to an unprecedented degree. An entire country has been wrecked. The Middle East is ready to explode. And the threat of terrorism, which the war was intended to remove, is much greater than it was.
All of this flowed from our response to 9/11. And so, six years later, we need to do more than mourn the dead. We need to acknowledge the blindness and bigotry that drove our response. Until we do, not only will the stalemate over Iraq persist, but our entire Middle Eastern policy will continue down the road to ruin."
Yes. And I am so tired of it. Tired of people who casually conflate Iran and Al Qaeda -- oddly, the same people who used to conflate Iraq and al Qaeda. Tired of "explanations" of Islam that have as much intellectual integrity as, say, an explanation of Christianity that took its central texts to be "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I come not to bring peace but to bring a sword", and "Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us -- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." Tired of people who act as though any attempt to understand people in the Middle East and how we might best respond to them is a sign not of plain common sense but of weakness. (Here is a sentence from Kamiya's article: "It was vital that we think clearly about our response, who attacked us, why they did, and what our most effective response would be." And here's how Flopping Aces glosses it: "In the Left’s twisted world, they would rather fall to a knee and bow a head to their Islamic master, although they either don’t know it yet or won’t admit it.") And tired of the insinuation that minding, or even noticing, the fact that we have thrown aside our ideals for nothing is a sign of hating my country.
But I bet I'm not nearly as tired of this as the average Iraqi. And I bet I don't mind the uses to which 9/11 has been put -- the deployment of it for partisan ends, which I find obscene -- nearly as much as someone whose husband or wife or child or father or mother was murdered that day.
It's time for this to stop. It's time for us to recover our honor, try to help put our country back together again, and mourn 9/11 the way it deserves to be mourned: soberly, thoughtfully, seriously, for itself, and not in the service of any extraneous end.