For the friends and family of 911 victims there can be no overcoming the horrendous destruction of that tragic day. Loved ones whose lives were brutally cut short by the attacks can never be forgotten, and the pain evoked by remembering them can never completely subside. Thus, it is entirely appropriate that the victims gather annually to share their love and grief with the world.
But the outpouring of national self-pity delivered by the U.S. corporate media can and must be overcome, for this is but a display of imperial self-justification that promises us only endless war and perpetual economic decline. Consider the following editorial in the Atlantic Monthly, a publication considerably less overtly nationalistic than the average news magazine in the U.S.:
The Atlantic Home
Sunday, September 11, 2011
The Meaning of 9/11
By Jeffrey Goldberg
What we saw on the morning of September 11, 2001 was evil made manifest. The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (and tried to destroy the Capitol) claim to have been motivated by a theology of restoration -- a dream of restoring Islam to a position of global supremacy -- and by the politics of grievance. But something deeper undergirds these impulses: A compulsive need to murder one's way to glory. The stated goals of al Qaeda are flimsy excuses, meant to cover-up this ineluctable fact. The souls of men like Muhammad Atta and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Osama bin Laden are devoid of anything but hate, and murder is what erupted from these voids.
9-11 Ten Years LaterLet us stay on the subject of murder, because murder is the meaning of 9/11. Westerners are gifted in the art of slashing self-criticism, and so much of our discussion about 9/11 in the intervening years has centered on our failures -- real failures of intelligence and imagination that allowed the attacks to happen; presumed failures of foreign policy that gained al Qaeda sympathy among some Muslims; and failures in our response to radical jihadism, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Guantanamo Bay, that are generally, though not universally, understood to have set us back in the war to defeat al Qaeda and its tyrannical and medieval ideology.
Self-criticism is necessary, even indispensable, for democracy to work. But this decade-long drama began with the unprovoked murder of 3,000 people, simply because they were American, or happened to be located in proximity to Americans. It is important to get our categories straight: The profound moral failures of the age of 9/11 belong to the murderers of al Qaeda, and those (especially in certain corners of the Muslim clerisy, along with a handful of bien-pensant Western intellectuals) who abet them, and excuse their actions. The mistakes we made were sometimes terrible (and sometimes, as at Abu Ghraib and in the CIA's torture rooms, criminal) but they came about in reaction to a crime without precedent.
The 911 attacks were massively destructive but can we honestly call them "unprovoked," as Goldberg does? According to Al Qaeda they were retaliatory strikes for longstanding U.S. crimes against Arab and Muslim countries, crimes which have only accelerated since 911. If it was wrong for Al Qaeda to kill 3000 civilians on 911, why was it right for the U.S. to kill thousands of Arab and Muslim civilians with its foreign policy in the decades leading up to 911? Consider U.S. support for Israel torturing and murdering Palestinians since 1948, the destruction of Iranian democracy and the imposition of the Shah's dictatorship from 1953 to 1979, Israel's invasion and demolition of Lebanon in 1982 on a surge of U.S. arms shipments, the slaughter of 200,000 Iraqis in the 1991 "turkey shoot" called Desert Storm, and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians subsequently killed by U.S. economic blockade. The list can go on and on, but can we really believe that such policies are somehow not evil and don't invite retaliation? No, we cannot.
Is murder the meaning of 911, as Goldberg claims? Al Qaeda felt itself to be at war with the U.S. due to the imperial abuses listed above. Is the killing of civilians in wartime the equivalent of murder? Maybe it is on paper, but in reality the slaughter of civilians is what modern warfare is all about. The high-tech weapons so enthused about in Pentagon media releases almost can't help but kill large numbers of civilians, in spite of pious rhetoric about their "precision" capabilities. However precise their targeting capacities may be, whenever they are used large numbers of civilians die, only to be dismissed as inconsequential "collateral damage." How many wedding parties have we blown up in Afghanistan? One is too many. The point is that if 911 is murder, so were the long series of brutal aggressions carried out by the U.S. and Israel in the years preceding 911. And the aggregate civilian death tolls from those imperial interventions make 911 look like a misdemeanor, rendering Goldberg's claim that it was "a crime without precedent" quite ridiculous.
Furthermore, the notion that Westerners, Americans in particular, "are gifted in the art of slashing self-criticism" is patently absurd. Americans are deeply indoctrinated to believe that direct self-accusation of imperial crimes committed by American leaders is a form of treason. We are permitted to refer to our leaders' "mistakes," "ignorance," "naivete," "confusion," and "blundering idealism," but we must never accuse them of criminal conduct, no matter how many innocent people they slaughter, nor how flimsy the pretexts they use for justification. In point of fact U.S. leaders are considered good by definition in the U.S. corporate media, which does everything it can to prevent the American people from finding out about the crimes of state funded by their tax dollars. As a result, coming across a healthy, self-critical conscience in the U.S. is about as likely as finding a healthy fish in Lake Erie. As long as the public mind is contaminated by corporations like those that bring us Love Canal, Three Mile Island, the BP Gulf disaster, and the Fukushima triple meltdown, it cannot be otherwise.
Goldberg is correct in stating that self-criticism is indispensable to democracy, but his claim that we are overindulging this alleged trait in the West, especially in the U.S., is ludicrous. For it is the almost complete absence of self-criticism that characterizes U.S. political discourse. What passes for intelligent commentary in the U.S. mass media is little more than political gossip, and the "patriotic" grandstanding indulged in by political candidates reflects nothing more than the sound bites and bumper sticker slogans crafted by their corporate masters.
For all intents and purposes U.S. democracy is as dead as the avalanche of cliches that corporate America has used to bury it. Sustained and penetrating criticism of our political and business leaders is the only thing that can revive it.
See also Legalienate post from March 22, 2008 for a review of Osama bin Laden's indictment of U.S. policy.