September 12, 2001

On September 12, 2001, a stunned world responded to the U.S. with love and care, with expressions of comfort and solidarity, with grief and mourning. On September 12, 2001, the U.S. experienced the arms of a loving, ethical world, arms that it had itself extended to so many nations over so many years. On September 12, 2001, love given became love returned. I remember September 12, 2001. I remember even as we have been encouraged to forget it.

September 12, 2001 has been erased by footage of September 11, 2001. It has been disavowed by war-mongers and anti-Islamic fundamentalists. It has been silenced. It cannot exist. It dare not exist. That moment of U.S. vulnerability, when love and compassion were extended, does not fit into a narrative of U.S. dominance. That moment when hearts and minds reached out to the U.S. was so quickly replaced by a rhetoric of winning hearts and minds. Not a logic of compassion. But a competition. Not empathy, but persuasion. The tender U.S. had to be replaced by the militant U.S. And we still have yet to figure out what we lost. What we continue to lose by forgetting September 12, 2001.

The world changed on September 11, 2001. And it could have changed further on September 12, 2001. One we have privileged. The other we have silenced.

On September 12, 2001, the world stood with the U.S. Not because we wanted money or food or weapons. But because so many of us know what it means to lose security, what it means to be afraid, what it means to fight shadows, even and especially when those shadows look like us, live with us, are us.

Something precious was offered on September 12, 2001. And it was rejected. And we who offered it experienced a country closing in on itself. The U.S. no longer seemed as welcoming. It was in the air. In anti-immigrant discourse. In anti-international discourse. Fields that offered much-needed critiques of political processes and imperialist practices became designated as anti-U.S. International students started carrying around U.S. flags and pins to proclaim that they were benign. Those of us who dared to speak, who tried to speak, were told we could not. Because U.S. pain was exceptional. U.S. loss was exceptional. U.S. grief was exceptional. In a rhetoric honed in Lifetime movies, the U.S. said, “You cannot understand. How can you?”

Grief morphed into rage. And the ruptures of September 11 turned gangrenous, home to the malignancies of ever-lurking nativisms and nationalism. And we learned, quickly, that those who were not with the U.S. were against the U.S. Our compassion was unnecessary. The U.S. wanted our allegiance.

It is difficult to inhabit the ruptures of loss. Impossible, even. And it is even more difficult to see the ethical paths that such ruptures might open. As the U.S. struggles to maintain its status as the superpower, it erases the possibilities available on September 12.

2 thoughts on “September 12, 2001

  1. Yes. Indeed. Thanks for a wonderful post. One of our household’s most powerful memories of the world extending its love and care actually occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, not the 12th, in the midst of the tragedies. Moose was home alone that morning, trying to take in the flood of information and rumor. Here in the Washington area, of course, the threat was not remote but immediate, literally in our own backyard. There were rumors of bombs at the Capitol — and the reality of kids in schools that were closing while their parents were stuck downtown. The phone rang many times that morning. Once, Moose picked it up and heard the voice of a dear friend, Janne, from Norway. They didn’t talk long. Janne’s message was simple: Europe is watching. We are with you. We are with you. There was deep love and reassurance in Janne’s voice, but her words coming in from thousands of miles away immediately filled Moose with a sense of the global dimensions and implications of what was happening. Janne offered the world’s love on that terrible morning, and Moose received it — but even as she took it in she worried what her country would do with its rage and sorrow. Nine years later, Moose still hears the echoes of Janne’s voice, but you are so right about tenderness being overtaken by militancy as the nation sought/fought to recover from its wounds. Many paths were available to us in the wake of the attacks, and we have chosen the bloodier, less ethical one nearly every time. Alas.

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