Sorry to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming of tour adventures, but I feel compelled to explain myself. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that in addition to documenting my own musical journey and making goofball asides, I also like to throw in the odd political comment. Yesterday I tweeted, “Anticipate a lot of smarmy, cynical tweets and retweets tomorrow. Sorry, just don’t trust people to have thoughtful, genuine things to say.” It so happens that my phone autocorrected ‘snarky’ to ‘smarmy’ but pretty much that’s my sentiment. Let me tell you why I feel this way. Apologies if this gets pretty ranty and if I don’t bother with smooth transitions, but I feel like this is important to just get out on the page and into the world.
For most of our public officials, mentioning 9/11 has become little more than a political formality. They go through the motions in ‘paying respects’ in nearly every speech, but I’m willing to bet that if you analyzed these passages, regardless of the party or policy stance of the politician, you would come up with a very limited palette of language. And I think speechwriting is much like songwriting in this regard: if you really give a damn about being sincere, you’ll take pains to distinguish your expression.
The sad thing is, that’s actually the more innocuous case. When it’s not a knee-jerk disingenuous head-bowing, it’s to drum up social pressure to silence criticism of the wars we’re fighting. And it’s really hard for me to think of a more offensive (or ironic) motive in invoking a tragedy than to quash opposition to more killing and reckless endangerment of American lives. No, I don’t believe for one goddamned second that minimizing the loss of the lives of poor, young, disproportionately of-color Americans is at all a priority for the war hawks in our government.
Let me talk about the “never forget” crowd. You have to be a special kind of asshole to toss some variant of this phrase around. Look: if you lost someone on 9/11, or were afraid for your own or a loved one’s life on that day (specifically because you or they lived in New York or DC), you have a more direct experience of the trauma of the attacks than I do, and I honor that. But if you’re like me, an American citizen living somewhere else in the country, glued to the TV and on the phone with loved ones, we have about the same level of connection with the tragedy. We witnessed a traumatic, horrific event and our lives were at least somewhat changed by it. But none of us has more of a right to identify with and claim ownership of this tragedy than any other.
For my own part, and I’ll keep this as brief as possible, 9/11 happened just a few weeks into the start of my first year of college, already a time of huge transition. I felt an awful pit in my gut that day and for weeks, felt unsafe and disoriented as never before or since. In the longer term, the political fallout that ensued made me much more acutely aware of my Arab lineage and for better or worse was hugely powerful in the shaping of my identity over the next several years. How dare you insinuate that I could possibly forget? How dare you try to hijack* this public trauma for your private ends?
Here’s the last thing that kills me. I hope no one reading this believes that these wars we’ve been fighting have anything to do with actually making us any safer. I’m not going to go on and on about the whole corporatist profiteering machine, but I will say that there is a public will that makes the industry of war possible or impossible. Simply put, it’s my view that the legacy of 9/11 has been twisted to serve a perverse sense of retributive justice. The wars being fought are politically possible because of as a nation we want someone to pay for what has been lost. But not only can this never be done, but we’ve lost so much more in the pursuit of that retribution. Over 6,200 American lives alone have been lost in these wars, over double the toll of ten years ago. So while I do mourn the life lost on that day, I mourn just as much the loss of whatever senses would have stopped us from throwing so many more lives away.
If you’ve made it all the way through this, thank you. If I’ve offended you, you’re entitled to that, but I hope you’ve gleaned that I don’t make light of the actual events of 9/11 whatsoever. And if you’re my friend, I hope you don’t feel that I’m at all dismissing your own experience of and response to these events. It’s just that I think that the grief and remembrance process should always be thoughtful, instructive about our path forward, safe for all who have been affected by the tragedy, and untarnished by other motives. And that is the opposite of what I typically perceive in our public discourse.
(*Yes, I noticed that after I wrote it. No, I wasn’t trying to invoke the image of the actual hijacking of a plane. Yes, I feel justified in leaving it in. It’s the best word for what I’m trying to communicate and a reflexive objection to figurative language without regard to content is part and parcel of what I’m protesting.)