Susan Jacoby on the misuses of 9/11

In three days it will be the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, and we can expect the press and television to be flooded with pieces about “what it all meant.”

In her column The Spirited Atheist at the Washington Post’s “Faith” section, “The sacrilized myth of 9/11“, Susan Jacoby objects to the “sacralization” of this event:

By sacralization, I do not mean the phantasms of those who see a crucifix in a surviving piece of metal among the ruins but an ongoing attempt, usually in religious but also in secular rhetoric, to elevate this event from one more chapter in the history of human evil to “the day that changed everything.”

This mass murder did not change everything; it changed only some things. And what it did change, it generally changed for the worse. . . . Memorialization rightly recalls the names and lives of the individuals who died so senselessly on that day, not because they were all heroes but because they were all human beings worthy of remembrance. Sacralization and mythicization, by contrast, look for some sort of sense and transcendent meaning where there is none.

Her objections range from George Bush’s odious pronouncement that “God’s purposes are not our own,” to President Obama’s speeh from the National Cathedral in Washington this Sunday.

They [Presidents] ought not to be addressing the nation from the altar of any church or assuring us that God is still here. That is the job of the clergy, for those who cling to belief in a benevolent deity.

It stinks that Obama has to give his speech from an Episcopal church rather than from the White House or another secular venue.  There should be no privileging of religion in this issue, especially since Obama, in his inaugural address, gave a shout-out to atheists: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

While she also decries the use of 9/11 to restrict immigration, she also mentions that it restricts dissent:

Sacralization mistakes honest discourse for sacrilege. On the one hand (let us call it the hand of left-wing political correctness), it is now considered at worst hateful, at best bad taste, to refer to radical Islam as one important actor in this event. We all know, don’t we, that “true” religion is always good.

Well said!  It’s one of the salient characteristics of theologians, like those that infest BioLogos, that all faiths other than theirs are “improper” or “untrue.”

She goes on to channel Wendy Kaminer’s plaint, in I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional, that Americans are almost revelling in their status as traumatized “victims:”

Another element in the process of mythicization is a bloviated exaggeration of the traumatic effects of 9/11 on those who experienced the event only vicariously. The farther you get from New York, which bore the brunt of the attacks and where most lives were lost, the more Americans seem to insist on their ownership of the insult to the national psyche. It is as if I were to claim that I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because, like millions in November 1963, I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on television.

Finally, what change really occurred on “the day that changed everything”?  Only this:

“. . . we are an angrier, more politically polarized people than we were the day before 9/11? Our economic crisis is certainly a big part of the country’s sullen mood, but the two costly wars that can be directly traced to the emotions generated by 9/11 have exacerbated our financial problems. . .

. . . I do know that before we Americans do any more lying to ourselves about external attacks having changed everything, we need to ask ourselves honest questions about why the initial sense of unity after 9/l1 disappeared so quickly. That is not the terrorists’ fault and cannot be remedied by sanctimonious meditations about American suffering that was, for most Americans, second-hand suffering. But then, perhaps the psychobabblers are right, and stress from watching television has become as bad as being killed or breathing in poison yourself. That is certainly a subject for a sermon.

Let us by all means mourn the nearly 3,000 lives lost on that day, each a human being embedded in a network of love and caring, but let us also remember that it was faith—blind, obedient faith in Allah—that was behind it all. If you have any doubts about this, and share the fashionable view that the tragedy reflected only the  dispossession of the oppressed, or the presence of U.S. troops in the Middle East, read Lawrence Wright’s absorbing but distressing book, The Looming Tower.  That work, which won a Pulitzer, shows with palpable clarity that what happened on 9/11 had its roots embedded deep in radical Islam and its idea of jihad.

____

We watched the second plane hit, and the towers collapse, on a television in our lab.

_____

h/t: Diane G

97 Comments

  1. Lynn Wilhelm
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Sacralization? Is that right?

    • Dr. I. Needtob Athe
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      It means a developmental abnormality in which the first sacral vertebra becomes fused with the fifth lumbar veterbra.

      • James C. Trager
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        “Sacredization” better?

        PS — I can’t bring myself to watch the videos.

      • Lynn Wilhelm
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

        I think she needed a better editor.

        I do think it’s a good article. But big oops there.

        • Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

          sa·cral·ize (skr-lz, skr-)
          tr.v. sa·cra·lized, sa·cra·liz·ing, sa·cra·liz·es
          To make sacred.
          sacral·i·zation (-l-zshn) n.

          It works, although not often used in this form.

        • Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          Because you mistakenly think the word doesn’t exist, or because you know it exists but you just don’t like it?

          • Lynn Wilhelm
            Posted September 8, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

            Looks like it’s my error, not hers. I thought the word referred to the sacral lumbar spine. It looked like Jerry’s first spelling in the link was the correct one.

            Obviously, I didn’t look at the definitions in depth enough. I only saw the medical definition.
            Too rash on my part.

            I can always work on my vocabulary. I never thought where the word sacrum came from until now.

    • Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      It is very awkward sounding isn’t it, but it can indeed mean to dedicate and sanctify a structure such as a church or religious school for a sacred purpose

      And there in the above definition is probably a better word ~ “Sanctification”

  2. BradW
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    A well written article.

    Two things:

    1) The illegal immigration problem along the Mexican border states has existed a lot longer than 9/11. Was the problem exacerbated by 9/11? Probably so.

    2) Would like to have seen at least a comment about the “civil liberties” that have been lost (thanks Dubya)as, at least, a collateral result of 9/11. If people think that this part of the picture is a small one, we very well may have to learn some more “hard” lessons.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      #1 – How so?

      #2 – Agreed. Very much so.

      • BradW
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        #1 an almost reasonable starting place for the history of Mexican agricultural workers in the U.S.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink

          I mean, why did 9/11 probably exacerbate the problem?

          If you’re saying that 9/11 exacerbated anti-immigrant sentiment, especially anti-dark-skinned-immigrant sentiment, then yes, I agree with that.

  3. Marta
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I mark 9/11 as the date when people, who possibly wouldn’t have otherwise, began to speak out loud about the danger of religion.

    If I’m not mistaken, this is the event that Sam Harris points to as the impetus for “The End of Faith”.

  4. Lynn Wilhelm
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I watched. I never want to forget the feelings I had that morning. I want the reminder of what hate can do.

    As I tearfully watch I think of the lives lost; the minds gone, the memories gone, the futures gone, the ideas gone, the feelings gone from all of those who died that day.

    I always want to be sure I remember that people were in those buildings and planes.

    Perhaps if I’d lost someone that day, I wouldn’t be able to watch. I don’t know.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 12:27 am | Permalink

      Nicely put. I watched and was eventually moved to tears, even after all these years. What I do NOT feel like watching is the current media hype about it with all the annoying talking heads acting all solemn and profound-like. I begin to feel like a voyeur.

  5. Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    I could have done without the increase in red, white, and blue folding lawn chair sales.

    • daveau
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Hell, yes. Flag waving bullshit. Hate that.

    • Marta
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Yes, exactly.

      It was immediately evident that we would overreact (and I say this as a person who was watching television in jail on 9/11, so it is true that my experience of it was already utterly surreal) and this is one of the sadder aspects. All the lot that followed–right down to the red, white and blue ribbon magnets and the re-election of George Bush was predictable.

      • daveau
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Srsly? You can just toss out a phrase like “watching television in jail” without further explanation? ;-)

        • Marta
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          Yep, that’s me. Big ‘ol tease :-)

          I was arrested the night before. I had a traffic accident and when the police came, they did the “wants and warrants” thing, and found one. For me. I was put into handcuffs, into the back of a cruiser, taken for processing, where I was finger printed, photographed, etc., and then popped into a cell. Everyone (I was in the Rolls-Royce of jails, Pasadena jail) I called, and I called 3 people, was not home.

          I spent the night–sort of–in the cell, pacing. Distraught.

          At 6:00am, the cell door opened, a jailer came in. He said: “We’re under attack. They’ve bombed the World Trade Center.” The TV was on, very loud. I was completely disoriented already, so with these pictures from TV, I thought I’d slid through a worm hole.

          I know you’re dying to know what happened later, when I went to court. The court explained it was a “judicial error”, and that they were “sorry”. My costs, and there were thousands, were on me.

          Now aren’t you glad you asked?

          • truthspeaker
            Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

            You had to pay court and jail costs even though there were no outstanding warrants and they arrested you by mistake? I’d be shocked but that seems to be typical these days.

            Similar story: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44433036/ns/us_news-weird_news/

            • Marta
              Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

              No, I didn’t have to pay court costs, etc. But I had to bail myself out, which was thousands, and I had to retain a lawyer, which was also thousands. That’s the thing, you see: even if you’re innocent, getting tapped by the judicial system can bankrupt you. I had the money. But this is really not how I wanted to spend it. For the many of us to whom this happens who do not have the money . . . ?

              • Ichthyic
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                Not disagreeing that the legal system can easily bankrupt folks, just like the healthcare system, but…

                if you don’t have money for bail (in the immediate sense), there are bail bondsmen.

                if you don’t have money for a lawyer, there are public defenders.

                I realize there are significant limits to both, but at least they do exist (in principle).

              • truthspeaker
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                You got the bail money back, though, right?

                @icthyic – in my state, the income threshold to be considered “poor” enough to be entitled to a public defender is very low. Someone can be ineligible for a public defender and still not be able to afford a lawyer.

              • Marta
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

                Nay. Did not get back the money for bond. So that was $4,000 gone.

                Did not get back the money for the lawyer. That was another $2,000. Gone.

                Totally off topic, now, but I’ve been thinking that I should go back to school and study Biblical studies. It’s complete bullshit, of course. But I’ve always wanted to go. What do you guys think?

              • truthspeaker
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                If you pay your bond and show up to your court date, you’re supposed to get it back. That’s what bail is for, to provide a financial incentive to make your court date.

              • Marella
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

                I think if you’ve always wanted to go and do biblical studies that there’s no point wasting time, go to it! You’ve only got one life, make the most of it. Enjoy!

            • Ichthyic
              Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

              But I’ve always wanted to go. What do you guys think?

              It entirely depends on why you want to do it.

              If you think it will be fun, and have no other reason for doing so, then go for it.

              if you think it would somehow be productive…

              not so much.

              there have been several posts about philosophy professors abandoning theology as being unworthy of any further effort of time.

              example:

              Ken Parsons

              http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/the-bones-arent-there-philosopher-of-religion-hangs-it-up/

              • Ichthyic
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

                if you’re interested in the anthropology and paleontological studies associated with the Abrahamic stories, you might want to talk to Hector Avalos first.

                http://www.philrs.iastate.edu/avalos.shtml

              • Marta
                Posted September 9, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink

                I’m re-reading Alvalos’ book.

                Biblical Studies is so much nonsense. It seems like great fun, doesn’t it?

              • Marta
                Posted September 9, 2011 at 4:40 am | Permalink

                Rats. I always get Hector’s last name wrong. That’s an inauspicious beginning, isn’t it?

          • daveau
            Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            Nice…

    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I could have done without the increase in red, white, and blue folding lawn chair sales.

      or freedom fries.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        That pissed me off so much. France helped us in Afghanistan. They didn’t help us in Iraq because Iraq didn’t attack us. It was depressing how many people jumped on the “hate France” bandwagon. Almost as depressing as how easy it was to convince so many Americans that Saddam Hussein was public enemy #1.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          yup.

          it was that continuing sense that most Americans are so easily manipulated to voting against their own self interest (and typically rationality) that finally convinced me it was time to leave.

          while I see the same potential in all people, everywhere, I still find leaving a place where I felt that my taxes actually contributed to the problems created by this manipulation at least freed me from feeling so directly responsible for sustaining it.

          in short, no regrets leaving the States behind, so far.

    • Filippo
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Yep, The Land of the Fee and the Home of the Craven.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 12:28 am | Permalink

      Hear, hear.

  6. steve oberski
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    About the same number of people die each month in the US from traffic accidents as died in the 9/11 incident.

    It’s interesting how we quantify risk.

    • Saikat Biswas
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      And the people who have lost their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are vastly outnumbered by those killed in traffic accidents, burglaries, drugs, domestic violence, or depression. So what?

      • Kevin
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        Well, I think the point is that we’ve created an enormous para-military force within our borders (the Department of Homeland Security), we’ve engaged in 10 straight years of military conflict (outlasting every other war in our nations history by plenty), and we’ve passed legislation that basically tramples on some rights that the founding fathers thought were pretty darned important.

        All because of a lucky shot made worse by an engineering mistake. Had the Twin Towers not been built in that particular manner, they would not have fallen. If the same planes had flown into the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, the reconstruction of those buildings would be complete by now. They wouldn’t have fallen and wouldn’t have been damaged irreparably.

        But we’ve grown so fearful of this random terrorist act that we’re willing to sacrifice pretty much everything that made the US unique.

        • daveau
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

          Like the 4th amendment, among other things.

      • steve oberski
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Since 9/11 the domestic security industry has become a trillion dollar business operating largely without public scrutiny or government oversight.

        This can be attributed to our inability to properly quantify risk, as is readily apparent in the emotional overtones in your reply.

        Given that massive expenditure, how much safer is the US citizen ?

        My comparison the traffic accidents is meant to point out that with far less investment we could achieve a measurable decrease in the number of deaths in an area where we are actually at greater risk of death or injury.

        We have a propensity to over-estimate the likelihood of positive events and under-estimate the likelihood of negative events.

        For example, excessive optimism has been related to the willingness to enter into military conflicts, as you allude to above.

        We could treat the 9/11 anniversary as national day of morbid melodrama and security theatre or we could actually learn something from the experience and implement rational policies that would actually make a difference and have a measurable benefit for the cost.

        But so what ?

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

          or we could actually learn something from the experience and implement rational policies that would actually make a difference and have a measurable benefit for the cost.

          That has not happened at any point in the policy history of the US in my lifetime.

          …and it never will, so long as smart people who actually DO want to enact rational policies run away from getting involved in politics.

          The idiots and demagogues own politics. How can anyone hope for anything rational to come out of that?

          • truthspeaker
            Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

            Not all of them run away. Most of them are pushed away by the political establishment.

            Look how they treated Howard Dean, whose ideas weren’t even radical.

            • Marta
              Posted September 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

              Yes, but he did do that “Yaaaaaaaaawrrrrrrrrrhh” thing, so he was totally not electable at that point.

              • Filippo
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

                Would that ululation have gone over in a positive big way were he a Republican?

                Were he otherwise in Congress, I doubt that he would have shouted “You lie!” during a State of the Union address.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                The press was eager to say that, yes.

    • Dan L.
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Thank you. I try to explain this to people all the time, that orders of magnitude more lives would have been saved lowering the speed limit by 10 mph than by spending $billions on DHS and rescinding civil liberties. That by any objective measure, terrorism is not really a threat. I love citing the statistic from 2008 that more Americans overseas were killed by either traffic accidents or intestinal disease (take your pick) than by terrorists (no Americans in America were killed by terrorists that year).

      People can’t quantify nuffin’.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        Do you have evidence that a lower national speed limit would result in fewer traffic deaths?

      • Filippo
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Is it others experience that Amuricun drivers tailgate significantly more than thirty or more years ago? Driving habits reflect the coarsening and degrading of American discourse and civility.

  7. Kevin
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I was close enough to see it, hear it, smell it.

    Frankly, about the only thing that changed for the better was this:

    Prior to 9/11, pilots were instructed to always hand over the cockpit if a hijacker asked for it. After 9/11, pilots were instructed to NEVER hand over the cockpit.

    Aside from that, not much else has happened that advances human civilization.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      And they finally got the reinforced cockpit doors Clinton had tried to mandate a few years earlier.

      • Derek
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        I remember being on a Korean Airlines (as it then was) plane in 1982/3, in First Class so the toilet was more or less beside the cockpit door; and, on visiting the facilities, noticing a sign on the adjacent door saying, in several languages, “This door is bulletproofed for your protection”. I did not feel particularly reassured.
        But the threat of hijack then was that the plane would be taken to North Korea by some rabid communist hijacker (as planes from Japan and South Korea indeed had been at imes in the previous decade, and as planes from the US had been taken to Cuba – at least until Fidel announced that he didn’t like hijackers either and they could count on time in a Cuban jail, which seemed to stop that), not that the hijacker would immolate himself and the remainder of the plane and its inhabitants by crashing them into something.

  8. Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Hitchens wrote recently on this & points out that the true scale of the horror of that day have been kept under wraps. It’s time that the uncensored recorded sights & sounds were made available to anyone with the stomach to handle it.

    This might help to dilute the tie-a-yellow-ribbon sentiment that has coalesced around 9/11.

    The war against these Islamic fascists is still being waged ~ it really has only just begun & this ‘sanctification’ is inappropriate while there’s still so much to be done. Too me it feels like almost a surrender when what is required now is grit

  9. Posted September 8, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    The 9/11 attack was not caused by or moltivated by an all consuming faith in Allah, or by religion. (I’m an atheist myself and am not defending religion.)

    The attack was caused by our political and military actions in the Mideast. Mohammad Atta was an architectural student in Munich. In 1996 he saw on TV a report of the Israeli bombing of the refugee center in Qana, Lebanon that killed some 140 innocent people. That night he sat down and wrote his last will and testement.

    By the way, what do you people, and the academics among you think of the American and Israeli policy of assassinating nuclear scientists, academics and professionals in other countries with which we have a disagreement? Has the President of your University spoken out against it? Do you not think it is a risky tactic on our part?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but I don’t agree. Wright’s book clearly shows that bin Laden was plotting anti-American stuff based simply on its symbol as a decadent non-Islamic society, and Wright traces that way back to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. The book makes it clear that the American presence in the Middle East postdated much planned Islamic violence, which was based simply on the concept of constructing a worldwide Islamic society resting on sharia law. Read the book and then we’ll talk.

      • Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Have added it to my list of books to read. Look forward to it. My opinion before reading it: religious and political motivations are deeply related and intertwined when dealing with Islamic fundamentalists. The motives of bin Laden were certainly political in that he wanted the US to invade guns blazing the Middle East, but he wanted this for religious reasons as well; to create popular Islamic uprisings.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        before you make such a sweeping statement, Jerry, you might take a look at the history of the Islamic revolution that culminated in 1979 with the Shah of Iran leaving.

        There indeed is a lot there to suggest that religion was being used as a tool to promote a political agenda, rather than the reverse.

        much like it is here in the US, as the republicans for the last 40 years have carefully cultivated a support base from the religious right.

        It could certainly be, now, that like the US, the religious zealots, having been given a taste of power, now fully believe that they are in a true “jihad”, so Wright’s book could still be correct. But, in the end, it wasn’t Islam itself that started all this.

        Religion has always been the tool of madmen, political or otherwise.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

          I would add:

          …all the more reason for us to abandon religion as a social construct, since it is so easily abused as a control mechanism.

      • Dan L.
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        This is pretty clearly a false dichotomy, Jerry. One of the reasons America is considered corrupt and decadent is because American foreign policy has run roughshod over the sovereignty of majority-Muslim countries for five or six decades. From a jihadist’s point of view, this means that the U.S. has been preventing the return of a properly holy caliphate from reemerging. When religion is politicized the way radical Islam is, you can’t just separate religious motivations from political motivations.

        Why would Shi’ite organizations like Hezbollah support almost exclusively Sunni (and therefore apostate) Palestine? Because it’s not just religion.

        It also sounds like you’re trying to sweep the less-than-stellar record of U.S. interventions in the middle east under the rug. Let’s bear in mind that all the dictators being targeted as part of the “Arab spring” are essentially U.S. puppet dictators. Religion isn’t the only reason to hate the U.S.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          American foreign policy has run roughshod over the sovereignty of majority-Muslim countries for five or six decades.

          expand that to “Western” foreign policy, and “over hundreds of years” and you have a clearer picture of the problem.

          Thinking the more recent Islamic “revolution” is all about religion is exactly like thinking that the crusades were only about religion.

    • Penman
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      What do you mean by “you people”? :)

      /Tropic Thunder

      • Posted September 8, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        LOL

        The Lone Ranger and Tonto are riding through one of the many canyons, when suddenly rising from the hill on their right are hundreds of Indians.

        They start to spur their horse forward, when they realized that there are hundreds of Indians ahead of them. Wheeling to the left they, once again, see hundreds of Indians rising from the hill. They begin to back away in the direction from which they had come and they realize they were surrounded. The Indians had spread out and they were trapped.

        The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto, his life long friend, and says, “Tonto, my friend, I think I must say that I have treasured our times together, but now I think we are doomed.”

        “We?” replied Tonto. “What’s all this ‘we’ crap, Paleface?”

  10. Zemblan
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    You have an interesting notion of causality.

    “The attack was caused by our political and military actions in the Mideast”

    Political and military actions in the Middle East may have influenced the perpetrators of 9/11, they may have been spurred to attack because of this, they may even have acted otherwise but for the presence of Western Military in their sacred lands.

    However, “but for x, Y would not have occurred” is not the same as “X caused Y”. Many actions could have resulted from that cause, including peaceful protest, attacks on (possibly) legitimate military targets, debate and dialogue, and so on. What did happen we all know, and to place the cause, and thus the blame, on western actions in the Middle East, is to deprive those heinous individuals of moral agency. They could have acted otherwise; they did not and a significant influence on how they chose to act was the set of religious beliefs they held.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 12:38 am | Permalink

      Well said! Take religion out of the equation and it is difficult to imagine just how the mid-east demagogues would have been able to justify their actions to those whom they needed to carry out said actions, or to motivate any suicidal attacks, for that matter.

  11. Zemblan
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Oops, the above was a reply to David Park. not to Jerry.

  12. truthspeaker
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Unrelated to the sacralization issue, what bugs me is the claim that prior 9/11, most Americans thought the greatest danger to the Us was an attack by another country.

    This is nonsense. The World Trade Center had already been bombed by Islamic militants once, in 1993. By August 2001, it was clear Al Qaeda was escalating. At the end of the 1990s they bombed two US embassies in Africa, bombed the USS Cole, and, on New Years Eve 1999, attempted to detonate a bomb within the United States. Right before Bush took office Clinton told him that Al Qaeda was the greatest threat to the US, and this was obvious to anyone who had been paying attention to current events.

    • Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      And when Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah building people immediately blamed Islamic fundamentalists.

  13. daveau
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    “Another element in the process of mythicization is a bloviated exaggeration of the traumatic effects of 9/11 on those who experienced the event only vicariously.”

    Good. Now I don’t feel so insensitive. I remember feeling horror for the people trapped in the planes in their moment of realization. I remember my sister emailng me that she just saw the north tower go down from her office. I remember the apprehension of wondering whether the attacks were over or not. And I remember the eerie silence at O’Hare for 5 days.

    But I didn’t know anyone involved. Nobody I know knew anyone. My company wasn’t affected. I didn’t have to live with a changed skyline. Sure, it was awful at the time. But I remember it now the same way as I remember the Maine, as history. The lasting impact on my life is in the erosion of our civil rights, and in the people who have exploited that moment and our patriotism for personal or political gain. And I am more concerned with all the people who have been killed since in the name of preventing such a thing from happening again.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      At the time I worked with a guy who didn’t lose anyone in the attacks, didn’t even know anyone in any of the cities affected (unlike me), but was very shook up about it. I didn’t get it, and still don’t. But I think he was a very insecure person and the “revelation” that the country was also insecure tapped into his personal insecurity.

      He also seemed to be completely ignorant of Islam or of foreign affairs generally. As he did with everything else, he turned to fundamentalist Christian outlets for “information” on both.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 12:57 am | Permalink

      This happened when my children were 10 & 16. Thankfully it didn’t have a huge emotional effect on them, despite the 24/7 coverage. But as a parent it was devastating. I think most of us, by the time we get to be adults, have managed to build a tough, perhaps cynical shell and come to grips with the knowledge that the world is full of horror and injustice; but then if you have kids, the vulnerability comes right back as you wonder how on earth you can raise them to be happy, hopeful people when the state of civilization is so appallingly awful.

      In addition, watching 100’s and 100’s of grieving family/loved ones on TV became way too much to bear; the stark, unvarnished anguish is still something I can hardly let myself think about if I want to function any given day. “History” has never been so well covered and broadcast. And anyone with any empathy had to imagine what it was like to be on those airplanes, or in those buildings, waiting for death.

      Without any direct connections to those involved, I was and remain profoundly moved and sorrowful. If this, 9/11, is how 21st century humans address their grievances, what’s the point of muddling on?

      • daveau
        Posted September 9, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

        I admit I was jumpy at loud noises or low flying planes for a year or so, and I completely empathize with the continued grief of those who were directly affected by the attacks. But I will not be wallowing in the plethora of televised 9/11 remembrances this weekend. I have no wish to relive that, and there really isn’t anything new to present.

  14. tdraicer
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    >It stinks that Obama has to give his speech from an Episcopal church rather than from the White House or another secular venue.

    No one is holding a gun to his head. But then this is a very minor example of Obama’s completely false promise of Change; the man has consistently governed as W’s third term.

    • CJS
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

      Have you ever reflected on the absolute intellectual and moral vacancy of that very fashionable statement?

  15. josh
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to see someone calling out this ‘sacralization’. I was an undergrad when the 9/11 attacks happened and immediately afterward there was the sense that this wasn’t just a tragedy, but was to be made into The Tragedy.

    I wonder, for people old enough to have lived through Pearl Harbor, or maybe the JFK or MLK assasinations, if at the time they felt a conscious pressure in society to invest those events with national significance, quite apart from their organic, inherent impact.

    I don’t mean to dismiss the obvious importance of these events to the victims and there loved ones, or to their respective causes in the case of assassinations. I mean, after 9/11, more than just mourning or hononing the dead, more than policy changes in response, there was a deliberate push to make 9/11 into a sort of mythic event. 9/11 was supposed to have ‘changed’ you, like a religious conversion. I didn’t notice any similar push in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.

    People seemed almost eager to make 9/11 into ‘our’ Pearl Harbor, and to adopt public expressions of grief and outrage like an altar call. And then, of course, anything can be justified in the name of patriotic zeal.

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      In a way, the events of 9/11 did change me, at least for a while. I remember watching the events on live TV (my family was in Manhattan, but I was in Colorado) and thinking for a fleeting instant that there really was no point in continuing to live my life in the way that I was living it. It went beyond natural feelings of shock and horror. I certainly wasn’t contemplating suicide, but suddenly my whole mode of living seemed rather pointless to me. I remember that land lines were working, and I called my father in England. He was extremely disturbed by the events and at some point during the conversation intoned a Hebrew prayer (I don’t remember which one) that actually made me feel better, but had no other discernible effect.

      The feeling of “what’s the f***ing point?” subsequently evaporated and hasn’t returned.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        uh, is there a point to that?

        are you really trying to imply that having some random jewish gibberish muttered over us will alleviate anxiety magically?

        …or are you really trying to imply that it is our bond with friends and family that help give our lives meaning.

        if the latter, you might want to make that clear.

        If the former, I weep for your sanity.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          Of course it’s the latter, and I had thought that was obvious, but apparently not. I mentioned the business of the prayer because it made ME feel better, but I seriously doubt if it did anything else to disturb the ether. As far as I can tell from personal observation, prayer may make the pray-er feel better, but I don’t see any evidence at all that it has other effects. Victor Stenger, amongst others, deals with this in one or more of his books when he examines the non-efficacy of petionary prayer.

          By the way it wasn’t “random jewish gibberish” but an established Hebrew prayer.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

            established Hebrew prayer.

            I stand by my description.

            • Llwddythlw
              Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

              Your response displays a disturbing level of ignorance and arrogance.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted September 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

                sorry, but…

                *yawn*

                you can call it a prayer if you wish, the label, as you are eminently aware, does not give it any added meaning.

              • Llwddythlw
                Posted September 9, 2011 at 5:00 am | Permalink

                Icthyic,

                All I mean to say is that the term “gibberish” is not correct in this context. I think that speaking in tongues IS gibberish. Whatever prayer my father said, it was intelligible to people who understand the language and capable of being translated into English or any other language, as such the word “gibberish” is simply not a correct description.

            • Diane G.
              Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:08 am | Permalink

              Aw, c’mon, Ichthyic. S/he wrote an honest and moving account of personal reaction to the terror, including how family members try (and succeed) to comfort one another, and you jump all over a mild remark about a prayer. There are more important things than that. And I think the answer to your question was well-available in the original post.

              • Llwddythlw
                Posted September 9, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                Thank you Diane. In fact, I’m a man, although the name doesn’t provide any clues. You did understand my original note correctly, and my remark about the prayer was simply to illustrate that in that specific context it acted like a tonic for me. Clearly, I’m not advocating any prayer (Jewish or otherwise) to the readers of this website which, given the main thrust of discussions here, would be highly inappropriate and in any case contrary to what I believe.

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:14 am | Permalink

        Llwddythlw, I felt the same way. The difference is, I can still easily feel that way if I let myself think to much about 9/11 or any equally appalling, if much smaller, recent news story of violence and destruction.

        What’s worse is the dissonance of how life goes on. Which I think began when W told us to go shopping. Just when you think maybe people are primed to readjust their values and start working toward more important goals…

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Since the Project for a New American Century explicitly hoped for a Pearl Harbor-like event to motivate a more aggressive American foreign policy, and since devotees of their ideas were in the White House at the time of the 9/11 attacks, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that trying to turn 9/11 into The Tragedy was deliberate.

      • CJS
        Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

        The same way Pearl Harbor — a not-unexpected military attack on a military target — was turned into The Tragedy patently and unquestionably justifying any conceivable atrocity. It is old hat – the underbelly of Amrican Exceptionalism.

    • Derek
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      I’m a post-War (WWII, that is) baby, born and raised outside the US, but I do remember the JFK assassination. It was to me then just news from a foreign country. But I have heard many times since then “Where were you/what were you doing when Kennedy was shot?”, and the same where/what question has come up again in the context of 9/11, as if each of these events has been so seared into each of our souls(?) that we should always remember the answer. Since your comment related to societal pressure to remember, I don’t think the MLK assassination has the same status generally, though I’m sure there are people of my age or so who do actually remember where/when.
      Pearl Harbor is a US thing – much of the world had already been engaged in war for more than two years by then; and I don’t remember when growing up any commemorations of the start of wars, just of their ends. But I believe FDR started the push to remember Pearl Harbor that very day – “a day that will live forever in infamy”, a casus belli.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:22 am | Permalink

      I’d say, JFK, no. MLK, maybe a bit, but perhaps with some reason…It was also concurrent with the realization that we were sending our young men off to SE Asia to die for no justifiable reason. So the wonderful USA of the myths we’d grown up with turned out to be racist and Machiavellian. I guess I wouldn’t call it anything like sacralization, tho; more like an awakening. Too bad we’ve had an asleepening since then.

  16. murci3lag0
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    9/11 was also a big lost opportunity for USA: after the attack we all around the world were with you sharing your pain and hoping that you will open your eyes to the pain that we, in third world countries feel. And instead of guiding us out of the local wars, the American government just showed all other governments how to use “terrorism” as an excuse to oppress the people a little more. And I’m sorry to say that the general American public has kept their thoughts away from the suffering of the people of other countries.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      the American government just showed all other governments how to use “terrorism” as an excuse to oppress the people a little more.

      not just the third world; China and Russia, for example, took great advantage of the situation to claim “terrorist suppression” without incurring world-wide condemnation for the many acts of actual REpression engaged in by them during the last 10 years.

      they were by far not the only ones to take advantage of the new rules allowing free reign to smash dissidents.

      maybe, with the current wave of uprisings in the Middle East, it will give govts pause in their misuse of such tactics.

      doubt it though.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:23 am | Permalink

      Yes, indeed. That is perhaps the bigger tragedy.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    That work, which won a Pulitzer, shows with palpable clarity that what happened on 9/11 had its roots embedded deep in radical Islam and its idea of jihad.

    Thanks for the pointer!

    I know religions are keen to raze symbols (of NY, world trade, and whatnot), especially of other religions*, but islam has stood out in modern times.

    The destruction of 6th century giant statues is another example.

    —————
    * An example of “sacralized” religion being as bad as any other religion is buddhism destruction of Angkor Wat’s many temples.

  18. truthspeaker
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Then there’s this:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/09/officials-downplayed-ground-zero-health-risks

    I know politicians have been lying and getting away with it since prehistory, but that administration took it to a new level.

  19. Aqua Buddha
    Posted September 8, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    One couldn’t ask for a better closing to the post-9/11 decade than the Arab Spring, which has put the kibosh on the appeal of bin Laden’s ideology.

    This is in great contrast to the US reaction, which merely fulfilled bin Laden’s wildest fantasies by becoming mired in economically-draining wars in the Middle East.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted September 8, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

      It’s interesting to see Egypt and Tunisia move toward liberal democracy faster than Iraq.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 9, 2011 at 1:26 am | Permalink

      Interesting. I’d thought it was creating a great opportunity for Islamists to swoop in.


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