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