The 9/11 Narrative

September 11, 2011

culture / politics

I didn’t plan on writing about 9/11 this year. I wrote about it last year (and in 2001, linking to the article I tracked down last year, though my thoughts from back then are lost in a Comic Sans archive of messiness), and I assumed I wouldn’t have more to say this year.

But while I still believe that the September 2001 article I reposted from the vocalist of Ballydowse is the best response to the event, I think there are words to be said about our national response since then, and it is those I decided to give attention to.

Obviously, from the article I found so life-changing, I was against most of our responses then, and have continued to be so, from the initial bombs that fell on Afghanistan to the full invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, from the torture of our potential enemies to the trampling of our own rights under the weight of fear, and from the baptism of all of our actions as if they were part of our own jihad to the joy we’ve taken in our own violence, hatred, and revenge. We have responded as I expected us too, of course, but I and many others have mourned these last ten years as we did it.

I believe these responses are symptomatic of the narrative we have created to tell ourselves about America’s place in the early 21st century. It is a narrative of the wronged but triumphant hero, determined to do whatever it takes to pursue whatever we define as freedom and justice, and determined to get past everything in our way, whether enemies or financial crises or just people we think are unpatriotic. Both sides of our political spectrum have created and bought into this narrative, though (at times) in different ways and to different degrees. We have put everything we’ve done as a nation under this narrative, and we can trace it all back to 9/11 when we want to (though of course the issues are older and much more complex).

It occurred to me today that one of the consequences of this construction is that those of us who reject this narrative are left without a way to process 9/11 that is not defined by (positively) our desire to create and live a better narrative or (negatively) by our opposition to this dominant narrative. This means, because there are so few spaces that do seek to live narratives of real justice and peace, that all the responses around us are shaped by the narratives of blind patriotism and violence, even if they are deeply human responses of grief and remembrance.

This is certainly intentional on the part of the political systems of our country, and it has worked incredibly well for them in getting us to go along with things. But I think it has done so to the deep detriment of any actual grieving, healing, forgiveness, or peacemaking that might otherwise have been available to us. And so these are still, ten long years later, the things we need the most.