In reading the recent posts on the blog this September 11, I wanted to share a few thoughts. Even six years later as we remember those lost, and also what we lost collectively as a country, on this day at Ground Zero, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania; it is important that we also remember that our foreign, defense and national security policy should be predicated on safety and security not revenge. And while revenge and retribution are understandable and even innately human reactions to what happened on that day, we have to be stronger than our inner demons.
The concept of revenge and retribution leads to the type of bloodshed occurring in Iraq every day. And the cycle of revenge is vicious and unending: You killed my brother, I kill your uncle, your sister, your mother, honor demands it. When the US is trying to help end this cycle of revenge, it is important to make sure that we are practicing what we preach because as recent experiences have shown hypocrisy in our national actions can be just as detrimental to our cause as any enemy attack.
I also feel it is inaccurate to characterize those who were killed in the attacks of September 11 as the first casualties in the war on terror. They are indeed casualties, however; if you are going to use that kind of logic, you need to go back as far as the bombing of the USS Cole and the coordinated bombings of US embassies in Africa. These attacks were all precursors to what happened on September 11 and were indeed the first front in the war on terror.
It may seem to some that I am parsing hairs, but how we characterize our struggles is important. Whether for release domestically or for a more widespread international audience the words we choose in this war are important and have deeper meaning, to us and to others. It is like those who insist on calling Muqtada al Sadr’s Militia the “Mahdi Army”. A common historical definition, espoused particularly among Shia, of the Mahdi is closely linked to the idea of a battle against infidels and the antichrist. In acknowledging these forces as the “Mahdi” army we label ourselves the infidels, the antichrist. We know we aren’t, therefore we should not allow ourselves to be labeled as such by anyone. Words have power and we live in a global environment.
While not exactly in the same vein, I think we need to consider carefully the implications of labeling our national response to 9/11 as a “saga of victimhood”. Inherently the word victim is not altogether bad and un-useful. Simply because it has been bastardized, does not mean its original meaning does not apply. Those whose lives were taken on September 11 were the victims of evil, misguided men; men who adhere to a gospel of destruction-not traditional Islam-and sought to unleash a holocaust on the West, particularly the US. Even if those that died are semantically called victims, in no way did they die as victims. Those that died are victims, victims of madmen. Their lives were taken from them-and those they love-against their will in terrible and awful ways.
Even with that being said, we as a country and as a people did not adopt a victim mentality, the heroic stories that played out that day and in the weeks and months and years that have followed are proof of that.
I have seen up close an entire country that was victimized by evil men-it’s called Iraq. In 2003 and 2004 I saw a country and a people so beaten down by 30 years of autocratic and repressive leaders that it was as if the entire country was suffering from battered-wife syndrome. The country is still battling to recover from these years of repression. The US comes nowhere close to this mentality. The analogy doesn’t work and we should not let the word victim lose its meaning. It has a place. It exists in language for a reason. So I would return to my point that our foreign, defense and national security should be predicated on safety and security not revenge or isolation, both desires which could seemingly rise from misguided victimhood. We are not victims; we are Americans and that is a singular thing on this planet. A thing that unfortunately has made us, and those who stand with us, targets of evil men.
But being a target does not make us powerless. And our greatest power lies in all of us. Whether we always agree with it or not, we do have a government of, for and by the people. And our people are our power and the key to the war on terror. While laudable in their efforts to protect the country, bureaucracies will never by themselves bring an end to the war on terror or ensure our ultimate safety. We do. Vigilance and diligence by each of us, protects all of us: A store clerk who calls local law enforcement when shady individuals buy large quantities of unregistered cell phones which can be used as detonation devices for improvised explosive devices; and an hourly worker who raises an eyebrow when a customer requests duplicates of what appears to be a terrorist training video. Just as any woman walking alone to her car in a parking lot should be aware of her surroundings and should watch her back as a matter of course, we as a country should watch our collective back. Is it paranoia? Is it victimhood? No, it is the reality of a post-September 11th world.