Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Ritual on 9-11

As I walk through the streets of New york today, an air of melancholy hangs overhead like gray clouds, diminishing the sunlight and dimming one's vision.

Here, at the epicenter of the attacks the mood is somber. Faces are drawn. No one is smiling.

No doubt, people are in mourning - not just in New York - but throughout the country; for - as George Lakoff so eloquently put it in his groundbreaking work Don't Think of An Elephant - when those planes hit the Towers, it was experienced collectively as a bullet going through our heads.

We are in mourning. But politics still permeate this day.

Hand written signs at my local bagel shop proclaim the now common adage: "We will never forget."

I wonder at this phrase sometimes: we will never forget what? Those who were killed? Or those who committed this crime?

7 years later, it seems painfully clear someone in our government has forgotten both.

What they remember instead is their self-appointed heroism. Their self-aggrandizing and self-proclaimed status as our "Fiercest protectors."

Yes, while we mourn Sept 11, there are those who have reason to celebrate it: Rudy Giuliani, for example who was perhaps days from losing his job as mayor due to an adultery & corruption scandal. 9-11 saved his career, and allowed him to reinvent himself in a new image. And all his flaws faded away into the distant memory of what life used to be like before 9-11.

Yes, while we collectively mourn, some in the halls of government privately give thanks. For example, those in the Bush administration who allowed the attacks to happen on their watch despite the warnings. They are thankful for being allowed to keep their jobs despite their failures to protect us.

Bush himself must be grateful he kept his job, despite the fact he was so involved in his own vacation that he turned away federal agents who came to him with the dire warning "Bin Laden Determined to Strike US." He must be grateful the American People have not decided to hold him accountable for his delinquency.

How did those responsible for allowing this to happen, escape responsibility for their failure to protect us?

It could only happen one way: point the finger the other way, capitalize on people's fears, and distract, distract, distract. Act aggressively. Be macho. Obscure your own faults with bold pronouncements of "Wanted, dead or alive."

Today I ride the subway to my office like any other day.

I could be afraid to leave the house on a day like this. I make my own hours, so I could stay home. I ask myself why not? And the answer always comes back: because I refuse to let Fear win.

And yet, as Rudy Giuliani stood on stage at the GOP convention, in front of an image of the NY skyline - minus the Twin Towers - I can't help but think how easily the party in power has given in to that Fear. They wave a big stick and talk aggressively about how they are the only ones you can trust to keep us safe, but they failed once already and they have let Fear win the day....

... but then I realize something else: they have not given in to Fear, they have embraced it as a political weapon.

If there ever was a time as dangerous as the day of the attack itself, it is on the anniversary day itself, when fear clouds our vision, when depression casts out hope, and when anger overshadows our dreams of a better future.

It is in this psychically dangerous moment that we are the most vulnerable, that we risk losing our common vision, and instead retreat into the confines of depression and fear.

Fear is Retreat. "We will never forget"

Let me share with you my ritual, my means of "never forgetting." Every year at this time, I choose to remember Sept 12th. I go to this link and look at the pictures of people around the world standing with us; mourning with us; and being willing to fight with us.

As the GOP hammered over and over again "Never Forget," THIS is what they forgot: our moral imperatives and our our shared responsibility.

Instead of leading us through the wilderness of despair and depression, they retreated into the darkness of Fear.

Some reading this will undoubtedly say "How can you be so political on a day like today?" I would ask in return "How can you hide from it?"

We cannot allow fear to stifle our American spirit. For the last 7 years we have allowed a single political party to beat us into submission with the fear and sadness of the 9-11 attacks.

We have allowed these politicians to wrap themselves in the flag, and to divide and scare us into voting for them.

These same people allowed the attacks to happen.

Remember: Terrorism is defined as "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes." Therefore the Republican manipulation of 9-11 is actually a recognition of the basic truth that terrorism is at its root a political tool.

Thus the pattern of politicizing 9-11 in order to profit from it in elections, is one example where the GOP does understand terrorism somewhat better than anyone else; however, it also reveals a weakness in that by definition terrorism can only be defeated politically, not militarily.

You do not fight politics with conventional weapons, you fight it with ideas. That is why liberals, while not the best at manipulating terror for political ends, are nevertheless better suited to fight terrorism: because we understand that not every conflict can be solved with military force. We must use diplomacy, persuasion, and - yes - market economics.

In order to defeat the threat of terrorism, we must win hearts and minds, not stop them from beating and thinking.

Picture this: you are under attack from an unseen enemy. To swing blindly at everything around you - as if aggression alone can defeat your enemy - shows weakness.

It is an act of fear.

To fear is to surrender.

To surrender is to retreat.

Thus, invading Iraq was an act of retreat; and fighting them "over there" so we don't have to face them "over here" is an act of fear.

This is how we must redefine the debate.

D. Tree

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