I have been trying not to write about the so-called 10th Anniversary of 9/11. In now-erased work, I have suggested that the problem of 9/11 is not whether it is remembered, but how it is remembered. I have wondered whether I “feel” safer,” even as my residence near the nation’s capital over the past few years has been accompanied by injunctions (at the metro station, at Amtrak, at all airports, at the grocery store) to remain “constantly vigilant.”
Janet Napolitano, your voice haunts me.
Were I in the States right now, this would be a different post. Location makes a difference in how we are able to remember.
It is Friday morning in Nairobi. I can hear the local muezzin from my house. Today, downtown Nairobi will be full of kanzu-clad Muslims assembling for and taking part in communal prayers. It has been a little over a week since Ramadan ended. For the next few weeks, perhaps even a few months, it will be possible to find dates in the supermarkets. In Nairobi, I am surrounded by the dailyness of Islam. It feels nice, comforting.
This niceness is important, because it helps to cut the various hand swabs and random searches and extra security I undergo (sometimes), this because I have taken to wearing a scarf and, in the right lighting, I look vaguely Somali. (Amsterdam, I do not love you.)
From Nairobi, I think of how 9/11 has enabled Kenya to continue its decades long program of marginalizing Somalis. The language of terrorism has fed state-sanctioned paranoia and opportunism, so much so that, recently, when a Kenyan politician was confronted with the horrors of the Wagalla Massacre, he expressed no regrets. Kenyan-born Somalis continue to find it difficult, if not impossible, to acquire essential legal documents. And the face of terrorism and piracy in Kenya is Somali, not Arab.
The first time I blogged about 9/11 was in 2005. Then, anticipating my post from last year, I wondered about 9/12. In 2001, I needed a list of names and works to engage a present that remained unavailable. I turned to psychoanalysis—Jacques Lacan and Jacqueline Rose—and the innovative poetries and poetics of Charles Bernstein and Edmond Jabés to try to make sense of this experience being made mine.
I have wondered why it took so long—4 years—for me to approach 9/11 semi-publicly. At the time, and this perhaps very late, I wanted to name the wrongness of the post 9/11 world, one that, for better or worse, my foreignness enabled me to experience.
Foreignness changed after 9/11.
In retrospect, it was perhaps inevitable that I would start reading about and writing on nativism. And it was, perhaps, inevitable that my scholarly work would leave the U.S. to travel in other geographies and histories. It had become “impossible” to be the scholar I envisioned prior to 9/11. In 2005, the U.S. no longer felt safe for foreigners, or possible.
One started wearing khaki pants and polo shirts to blend in.
And we have yet, I think, to assess how the “turn” to transnationalisms and internationalisms and diasporas, well underway before 2001, changed after 2001. A roundtable I am on at the ASA will try to suggest that one major change was the making irrelevant or invisible the work of earlier postcolonial critics, though the roundtable will not, I think, take 9/11 as its point of departure.
It is Sunday evening now and I am looking at blogs on 9/11 and noting those blogs that remain silent or muted. I am struck by the lucidity and coherence of those writing: the sharpness of memory, the sequence of narrative, the forcefulness of argument. I am intrigued by how we write about 9/11, the moment “the world changed,” the Kenyan newspapers tell me.
Monday, and I am about ready to post this. Hoping for a fragment that will glue “it all together,” this “it” that remains elusive and deeply felt.
I give the last word to Rasna Warah:
The world changed 10 years ago in one fundamental aspect — we all became more fearful, not just of terrorists, but also of the US government.