Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering September 11 and its Aftermath

Six years ago, on the evening of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I wrote the following in my journal:

As I grapple with events unfolding here in the United States, I am haunted by images of the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center, of Lower Manhattan shrouded in plumes of dust and smoke.

Thousands are thought to be dead after two hijacked commercial airliners were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. In Washington, D.C., a third hijacked airliner ploughed into the Pentagon, while a fourth hijacked airliner crashed into a field near Pittsburgh – apparently before it reached its target of either the White House or the Capitol. All four hijackings were part of a coordinated act of terrorism targeting the most prominent symbols of U.S. economic, military and political dominance.

Along with the horrific loss of human life and the overall savagery and terror of today's acts, there is another aspect of what has happened – and what is happening – that disturbs me. It is the uncritical coverage and analysis being offered by the mainstream corporate media. Not once have I heard any analysis of what might drive people to commit such deplorable acts. Not once has the United States' role in global oppression and, yes, terror, been identified, explored and/or critiqued.

Does awareness and acknowledgment of this role excuse the terrorist atrocities of today? Of course not. But it may help explain them and prevent future attacks.

Three days later, on Friday, September 14, I attended a peace vigil on the corner of Summit and Snelling Avenues in St. Paul. I photographed and interviewed a number of folks at this vigil for my online photographic exhibit, Faces of Resistance.



Above: Kate McDonald, CSJ, and Kay Abbott – September 14, 2001.



Above: Lenief Heimstead – September 14, 2001.

“[It is] my desire to be with others who are not seeking revenge that I’m here at Summit and Snelling at the time of the regular weekly vigil that is held here in support of peace with justice in the Israel/Palestine conflict,” says Lenief. “I brought no sign of my own but when I looked over those that were available I was drawn to the one that said ‘Non-Violence is the Courageous Way.’

“People who are not very knowledgeable about nonviolence sometimes think of it as a cowardly avoidance of conflict. Actually, a nonviolent response to conflict is based on love, and to exhibit this response takes a great deal of courage. As Mohandas Gandhi once said, ‘A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave’.”


Later that night, I recorded the following in my journal:

[During today’s vigil] the response we received from passing commuters was overwhelmingly positive. It was incredibly heartening. The mainstream media may be joining with the Bush regime in beating the drums of war but I really don’t think such a hawkish stance reflects the mood of the general population. True, I think many people are feeling very patriotic (the increase in sales of American flags attests to this) but I think that this is more a way of standing in solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attacks than it is an indication that people are all for a full-scale war.

By September 23, I was writing about a very different mood:

It would seem that the United States is at war – a war against terrorism! This despite the fact that no such declaration has been made by Congress. Indeed, Congress has basically absolved itself of the responsibility for deciding such matters and relinquished such authority to the president. In a so-called democracy, I find this very disturbing and difficult to fathom.

Why are people so slow in realizing the futility, the horror, the violence of war? Thousands stand and wave flags and sing patriotic songs. There seems to be a torrent of nationalism sweeping the country. And where will it take us?

I pray for peace, Great Spirit. Peace in the hearts of those in power. A peaceful heart cannot plan and wage war. I pray for a nation-wide rejection of all this talk of “fighting back” and “being at war.”

I pray for the millions of Afghan refugees on the brink of starvation and disease and now threatened by U.S. bombs. I pray for the dying children of Iraq. Let the collective concern of the United States embrace these people as well as those lost and left behind by the September 11 tragedy.

It’s times like these that I lose faith in organized religion as it clearly has failed to help people transcend limiting and ultimately destructive paradigms like nationalism, and to embrace instead the great spiritual truths that tell us we are all one, that we are all parts of the same body, that we are brothers and sisters.

Help me, God, to do what I can to bring about this shift, this expansion in conscious insight. “Make me a channel of your peace . . .” Make me a vessel of loving and respectful challenge. In these troubling days – these days of anger, fear and retaliation – keep me enveloped in your love. Let all my words and actions be offered to the world in your Spirit of humility, compassion and love.

Two days later, on September 25, I participated in a spirited rally in front of the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis. Again, I photographed and interviewed a number of those in attendance.


“I think people have to speak out about this madness,” says Marie Bruan (pictured above), referring to the Bush administration’s increasing war rhetoric in response to the tragedy of 9/11.

“I believe those responsible [for 9/11] are criminals. We need to bring them to justice. But war is not the way to do it. We will just end up with a lot more innocent people being killed. I do not want the United States to become the terrorist in response to terrorism.”



“I’m here to try and salvage the United States,” says Joe Palen (pictured above) about his presence at the September 25 rally in downtown Minneapolis to protest the Bush administration’s plans to respond to 9/11 with war.

“I’m here to try and tell others that there’s another way besides retaliation, besides violence, besides bombing and killing. We all need to really speak out loudly now – more than ever before.”



“I feel bad, but I’m not angry,” says Polly Mann (above) of the events of 9/11. “I’m saddened, but I’m not angry because I understand that there’s a background to all of this. And also, I think of the 5,000 children who die every month in Iraq [due to the U.N./U.S. sanctions] and I don’t see two inches in the newspaper about that. So, until every death is the same as a death of ours, we’re going to have trouble. Until we feel the equal pain for their loved ones that we do for the loved ones of Americans, we’re in trouble and we’re going to stay in trouble.”

Reflecting on the Bush administration's war rhetoric and the strong support it seemingly has from the American people, Polly notes, “America is not a peace-loving country. It is a country filled with people who love their things more than they love their children. Our wealth has done us in.”


At around the same time as the September 25 rally in Minneapolis, Indian writer Arundhati Roy wrote an essay entitled “The Algebra of Infinite Justice,” in which she noted that: “Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the U.S. government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an ‘International Coalition Against Terror,’ mobilized its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle. The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one. If it doesn’t find its enemy, for the sake of the enraged folks back home, it will have to manufacture one. Once war begins, it will develop a momentum, a logic, and a justification of its own, and we’ll lose sight of why it’s being fought in the first place.”


Six years later, the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq – a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 – in a war that has claimed thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. There’s even talk of plans for US military strikes against Iran. Meanwhile Osama bin Laden, the “mastermind” behind the September 11 attacks, remains at large, and acts of global terrorism have increased since the U.S. decision to respond to 9/11 with military force. No one is any safer.*

Arundhati Roy’s words have proved to be quite prophetic.



* As Democracy Now! reported earlier today: “Across the globe we’ve seen a fourfold increase in suicide bombings and a threefold increase in terrorist attacks. Less than one-tenth of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay have been found to have links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Not one of the 80,000 Arab and Muslim men who underwent Special Registration has been convicted of terrorism-related crimes.”



For more images and reflections on 9/11 and its aftermath, visit my Faces of Resistance gallery entitled Responding to 9/11 and the “War on Terror”.


Recommended Off-site Links:
Less Safe, Less Free: Why We’re Losing the War on Terror
– David Cole and Jules Lobel (The Nation, September 24, 2007 issue).
Six Years of 9/11 as a License to Kill - Norman Solomon (CommonDreams.org, September 10, 2007).
Forever the Victims - James Carroll (
The Boston Globe, September 10, 2007).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Let’s Also Honor the “Expendables”
Praying for George W. Bush
An Unholy Alliance in Iraq
In Search of a “Global Ethic”
When Terror is the Foil
More Propaganda Than Plot?
John le Carré’s Dark Suspicions
A Reign of Ignorance and Fear in the U.S.
Tariq Ali Discusses Rudyard Kipling
The Origins of Mother’s Day
Phyllis Bennis: A Voice of Reason
Irene Khan: Shaking Things Up Down Under
Richard Flanagan Wants a “Gentler, More Generous” Australia
John Pilger on Resisting Empire

4 comments:

paul said...

The pictures of the signs being held by Kate McDonald and Lenief Heimstead are truly shocking. Three days after the attack by radical Muslims on innocent civilians – who are these signs directed at? Are they directed at the people who lost mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses? If so, then by what right does Kate and Lenief have to tell these people that now is the “time for healing” and that “non-violence is courageous”? Are they directed to the citizens of the United States who had their nation attacked and by extension feel the loss to as a result of the murder of innocent civilians by radical Muslims? By the messages contained in these signs – they are certainly not directed to the radical Muslims that attacked and killed innocent people. I feel very sorry for Kate and Lenief – they are certainly misguided souls.

The strength of our peace is directly attributable to the strength of our resolve to defend the innocent by all reasonable measures, including the use of lethal force when warranted. As true as there is a God – there is also evil in the world and we saw an example of it on September 11, 2001.

Peace – absolutely. Defense of innocence and our way of life – absolutely. Without one – you do not have the other. They are complementary – not contrary objectives.

God bless our courageous men and women serving in the military. It is because of them – that we have peace.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Paul,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

To be honest, I fail to see how the messages on either of the signs held by Kate and Lenief are “shocking.” And the fact that these messages – which are really messages of hope – were affirmed by passing motorists that day, says that many Americans were feeling (and, I believe, still feel) that they are valid and worthwhile.

As to your question about to whom were these messages directed, I would say that they were directed to anyone who was open to them.

You also ask: “By what right does Kate and Lenief have to tell . . . people that now is the ‘time for healing’ and that ‘non-violence is courageous’?”

Well, by what right did George W. Bush and others have to tell these same people that the days following 9/11 were the time for war and violence?

I think it is also important to point out that neither Kate nor Lenief were suggesting that those responsible for the atrocities of 9/11 should be spared being brought to justice. However, they (and others) clearly question if war is the most effective way for ensuring that justice is served. I think the last six years of the so-called “War on Terror” indicates that it’s not. Indeed, if anything is to be labeled “misguided,” it’s this “war.”

I agree with you that we need to defend our loved ones. Yet I also believe that one important way by which to do this is by establishing and maintaining good and just relations with others. In many ways, the U.S. government (be in Republican or Democratic) has not pursued these “good and just” relationships with other governments and people around the globe. And as they say, what goes around comes around (I suggest you read Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire).

Also, if a strong military force supposedly guarantees peace, why then did 9/11 happen? No other country in the world has a military as powerful as the U.S., and yet it didn’t protect us on September 11, 2001. Some would even argue that a military response is by no means the most effective one against the type of terrorism we witnessed on 9/11.

Finally, I’m curious as to how you reconcile your willingness to use “lethal force” with the non-violent life and message of Jesus. Is the strength of the peace that Jesus brings as the “Prince of Peace,” “directly attributable to the strength of [his] resolve to defend the innocent by all reasonable measures, including the use of lethal force when warranted”?

Peace,

Michael

paul said...

Well, by what right did George W. Bush and others have to tell these same people that the days following 9/11 were the time for war and violence?

As the President of the US – and commander in chief – he is sworn to protect the people of the US. The US had been repeatedly attacked by radical Muslims – USS Cole., 93 WTC, embassies, marines, etc – culminating with a planned and coordinated attack on US mainland directed solely against civilians – where they struck 2 of three targets. As commander in chief he was right to state that this was a time to identify and track down the people who attacked the US

I think it is also important to point out that neither Kate nor Lenief were suggesting that those responsible for the atrocities of 9/11 should be spared being brought to justice.

And you would do this how? Politely ask them to report to the nearest US embassy for surrender?


However, they (and others) clearly question if war is the most effective way for ensuring that justice is served.

War is not engaged to ensure justice – war is engaged to defend a country’s interests.


I agree with you that we need to defend our loved ones. Yet I also believe that one important way by which to do this is by establishing and maintaining good and just relations with others. In many ways, the U.S. government (be in Republican or Democratic) has not pursued these “good and just” relationships with other governments and people around the globe.

Oh really? How about Great Britain, Australia just to name a few? And exactly how does maintaining “good and just” relations defend and protect our loved ones? Specifics please.


Also, if a strong military force supposedly guarantees peace, why then did 9/11 happen?

I never said guarantee. 9/11 happened because of a failure of the intelligence system to react – particularity all of the issue involving the CIA and FBI.


No other country in the world has a military as powerful as the U.S., and yet it didn’t protect us on September 11, 2001.

No guarantee. Also – military does not operate within the US – as a free and open society – this is a risk that we take.

Some would even argue that a military response is by no means the most effective one against the type of terrorism we witnessed on 9/11.

Oh really – and we have had how many subsequent attacks on US soil since 9/11?


Finally, I’m curious as to how you reconcile your willingness to use “lethal force” with the non-violent life and message of Jesus. Is the strength of the peace that Jesus brings as the “Prince of Peace,” “directly attributable to the strength of [his] resolve to defend the innocent by all reasonable measures, including the use of lethal force when warranted”?

This statement demonstrates that you must be a pacifist.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us "blessed are the peacemakers" (Matt. 5:9). Elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount he tells us "if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt. 5:39). From such verses some have concluded that Christianity is a pacifist religion and that violence is never permitted.

But the same Jesus elsewhere acknowledges the legitimate use of force, telling the apostles, "let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one" (Luke 22:36). How are these passages to be reconciled?

In broad terms, Christians must not love violence. They must promote peace whenever possible and be slow to resort to the use of arms. But they must not be afraid to do so when it is called for. Evil must not be allowed to remain unchecked.

Added weight is given to this realization when one recognizes that Scripture -- all of Scripture -- is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that the Old Testament is just as inspired as the New Testament and thus an expression of the will of Christ.

The Old Testament acknowledges frankly that there is "a time to kill" (Eccles. 3:3). At various times in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to defend their nation by force of arms. Yet it was always with the recognition that peace is the goal to be worked for. Thus the psalmist exclaims, "how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Ps. 133:1). Peace is the goal, but when it cannot be achieved without force, force must be used.

Paragraph 2309 of the CCC
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
• the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
• all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
• there must be serious prospects of success;
• the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Paul,

It’s safe to say we’re not going to come to much agreement on the points you’ve raised.

The bottom line is that you say that’s there’s a time and place for the use of force. I agree.

However, the type of “force” that the Bush Administration set into motion in the days and weeks following 9/11 and which has culminated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq was, I believe, misguided and, in the long term, not effective in curbing international terrorism or bringing those responsible for 9/11 to justice.

From what I gather, bringing these people to justice takes a back seat for you to the protecting of our “national interests.” Yet surely these things are related?

Anyway, I have a few points I’d like to make in response to some of the issues and questions you raised in your last comment.

First, it’s not George W. Bush’s status as “president” or “commander-in-chief” that gives him the right to share his views. It’s the fact that as an American citizen his right to air his opinions is protected under the U.S. Constitution. Thus he has the same rights as Kate and Lenief to share his views.

Let’s be honest here: it’s not what gives people like Kate and Lenief the right to express their views that pissing you off, it’s the particular views that they’re expressing. If George W. Bush had said these same things, you’d be just as mad at him as you are with these two women – regardless of his position and status.

Next: For George W. Bush to say that it was time to identify and track down the people responsible for 9/11 is one thing. It’s quite another to insist that military action must be the primary way to do it. Besides, we already knew who was responsible and where they were! Going in with guns blazing was a stupid over-reaction. And what did it achieve? Afghanistan’s a mess and is being ruled by a puppet government of the U.S., the Taliban are back and stronger than ever in some regions, Al Qaida is also stronger than ever by some accounts, and the mastermind behind 9/11 is seemingly alive and well and beaming messages from (probably) somewhere in Pakistan – one of our supposed allies!

Tracking down and apprehending international terrorists requires precision, persistence, and careful undercover operations. (Yet we all know the Bush Administration’s regard for undercover operatives!) I’m not saying such work may not involve violence, but it’s not the violence of bombing and large-scale destruction that we’ve seen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

You say that: “War is not engaged to ensure justice – war is engaged to defend a country’s interests.”

As I said before, the best way to defend our national interests is to develop and maintain just and fair relationships with others within the international arena. We also have to question what it is our government says our national interests are. Are they really in our best interests? Or do they serve the interests of corporate elites who in many cases benefit financially from the waging of war?

Also, Britain and Australia hardly represent the vast majority of people of the world! In addition, it was the governments of those countries, not the people, who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq – which Bush continues to maintain was necessary as part of the “War on Terror.” In reality, Iraq played absolutely no role in the events of September 11, 2001.

It’s also important to realize that both the British and Australian governments share the Bush Administration’s limited understanding of “national interests,” and all three governments fail to see that exploiting others so as to maintain a bloated and unsustainable lifestyle has consequences. The fuelling of extreme fundamentalism is one such consequence, as is the maintaining of conditions were millions of people in other parts of the world live in poverty and degradation.

It’s essential we know our history! No offence, but like many Americans you come across as being very insulated from the historical realities of your country’s involvement in world affairs.

One of the people I photographed and interviewed at the October 8, 2001 peace rally was my friend Kathleen Ruona. Following is what she had to say in response to George W. Bush’s statement that “You’re either with us or with the terrorists.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Kathleen. “It’s just one more statement that Bush has made that lacks any depth of understanding, any awareness of history. And unfortunately there’s way too many people who don’t know the history of the United States government and the terror it has inflicted on so many people and places around the world.

“The CIA was in Afghanistan training the mujahideen six months before the Soviet Union invaded back in 1979,” noted Kathleen. “Not only that, but the U.S., along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, were funding the Madrassas in educating these young men and boys in a very fundamentalist, very rigid and very anti-female form of Islam. The U.S. boasted that it wanted the Soviet Union to have its own Vietnam and so did all it could to provoke the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. After ten years of war the Soviets lost and the U.S. cut funding to Afghanistan. A vacuum was created which was filled by the Islamic fundamentalists we helped train. These fundamentalists comprise the Taliban, those whom we say are responsible, in part, for 9/11. How many Americans know this history? And how would their views on Bush’s so-called ‘War on Terror’ change if they did?”

Informed and important questions, don’t you think?

You ask for “specifics” with regards to how the developing and maintaining of good and just relations help defend and protect our loved ones. Isn’t it obvious? Good neighbors don’t attack one another. You really need to read Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback to understand how not maintaining good and just relations can have disastrous consequences. He and others maintain that the events of 9/11 are an example of such consequences, termed by the CIA as “blowback.”

You ask: “And we have had how many subsequent attacks on US soil since 9/11?”

Man, this question really betrays your narrow focus on the safety of only Americans. As Christians we’re called to think and act beyond nationalism. What about the safety of the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq who have lost their lives because of the way the U.S. government has chosen to respond to the threat of international terrorism?

Furthermore, study after study has shown that since the launch of Bush’s “War on Terror,” more terrorists have been created and are active in the world. As a result, more people are dying. But they're not Americans, so I guess it doesn't matter so much.

Also, other countries, for example, Russia, Pakistan, Britain, and Australia have used the “War on Terror” to justify either the brutalizing of their own citizens and/or the trampling of basic civil liberties and human rights.

Do you really think that Americans are not going to eventually feel the impact of all of these things? Or do you advocate an isolationist policy with regards the U.S.’s interaction (or lack of) with the rest of the world. That can hardly be good for our “national interests”!

You argue that Jesus acknowledges the legitimate use of force, telling the apostles, “Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.”(Luke 22:36).

Paul, I’m not saying that there may not be a time for the use of force. But somehow I can’t see Jesus advocating the type of force that the U.S. military has at its disposal. The very idea is ludicrous.

Also, biblical scholars maintain that the “sword” mentioned by Jesus was for protection. Accordingly, this reference can hardly be used to support the mass destruction and indiscriminate loss of life (“collateral damage”) we see in modern warfare.

You state: “In broad terms, Christians must not love violence.”

No, Christians must avoid violence as “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” The U.S. lives by the sword in that its whole economy since the end of the Second World War has been a war economy. As Christians we need to stand up and speak out against the U.S.’s “golden calf” of militarism.

You continue: “[Christians] must promote peace whenever possible and be slow to resort to the use of arms. But they must not be afraid to do so when it is called for. Evil must not be allowed to remain unchecked.”

Hey, if anything, Jesus showed us how to die, not how to kill. That’s shocking when you stop and think about it, but there’s no way it can be denied. Also, Christians are called to be peacemakers. And there’s a lot more involved in that than “promoting” peace. Furthermore, I don’t see George W. Bush being “slow to resort to the use of arms.” Quite the opposite. Nor do I see him promoting peace. And why should he? War is good for the economy and thus our “national interests”!

You state: “Added weight is given to this realization when one recognizes that Scripture – all of Scripture – is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that the Old Testament is just as inspired as the New Testament and thus an expression of the will of Christ.”

I don’t think our Jewish brothers and sisters would buy that!

I’m sorry, Paul, but it sounds as if you’re a biblical fundamentalist! And as a rule I don’t get into discussion with such fundamentalists. It’s pointless. We’re coming from two very different perspectives on how God works in and through human experience. I don’t believe that all of Scripture is inspired by God, especially if you’re saying that God literally dictated the words to the original biblical writers. That’s just crazy.

“Peace is the goal,” you say, “but when it cannot be achieved without force, force must be used.”

Which brings us back to where we started: In relation to the events of 9/11, the Bush Administration never attempted to achieve either justice or peace without resorting to the use of blunt force.

And the world’s been paying the price for this lack of wisdom, imagination and leadership ever since.

Peace,

Michael


P.S. And why on earth you quoted the Vatican's stance on "Just War" is beyond me, as it clearly proves that what George W. Bush is doing via his "War on Terror" doesn't fit the criteria of "Just War." And the Church has said as much!