It’s been 19 years since the September 11th attacks. It is right and proper to look back to that date and commemorate the lives ended. Tiff, thankfully, did that this morning. I’d like to address some things I’ve learned over the intervening years. I’d also strongly encourage people to read the clarifications for each of my points.
Radical Christians aren’t as dangerous as radical Muslims when it comes to American terrorist actions. The refrain I heard from many sources shortly after the attacks was that religious extremists were the same, no matter what religion they were. Experience has demonstrated that to be functionally untrue. While we have had Christians and Muslims alike perform horrible acts of terrorism both before and after the 9/11 attacks, the Muslim attacks seem to be capable of much greater damage. Many Christian apologists will point to the doctrine as being responsible. I agree with that, but not in the way most would expect. I have seen that Christians are perfectly capable of committing terrible atrocities in the name of God… and I’m not talking about acts of centuries past. From planting bombs at black churches to the Oklahoma City bombing* to gunning down members of a Pittsburgh synagogue, there is a history of American Christian terrorist violence. The difference, I believe, is in the organizational capacity… radical Muslim groups seem to be more likely to be directed toward concerted attack efforts while radical Christian groups are not.
Christians can be radicalized to a point where they’ll ignore widespread death and torturous abuses against not just foreign enemies but their own neighbors. The counterpoint to the issue above, I heard from many that Christians, because of the values of their religion, were disinclined toward violence and that the radicals were not merely outliers but such fringe elements that they would never gain popular support. This has been proven to be utterly untrue. Whether it is support for tearing apart families, fast-tracking the deportation of people suspected of having infectious diseases without screening or treatment, insisting that taking basic precautions against infecting others is a suppression of personal liberty, or responding to the killing of their neighbors by insisting that a self-styled and untrained “militia” teen was engaged in self-defense, it’s been shown to be false. Just as dragging an innocent man from a truck and smashing him on the head with a brick (also performed by someone who proclaimed himself a good Christian) was viewed as defensible because someone else had been beaten, the actions of members of a group regularly find themselves defended by others in that group. Christians seem to be, if anything, more vulnerable to this mindset, not less. This lesson is particularly noteworthy in the wake of governmental leaders empowering fringe organizations. If nationalist and supremacist groups continue to be encouraged, they absolutely hold the capability of organizing the massive strikes which have not, up through now, been possible… and that would quickly and conclusively negate point one, above.
Time doesn’t heal, but it erases. Immediately after 9/11 I started hearing the cries of “never forget”. For millions that will remain true, but with each passing year more adults are coming of age who either weren’t old enough to grasp the horror of 9/11 or who weren’t even alive for it. I understand now my grandparents’ sadness on December 7th; they weren’t merely recalling the personal losses, but the war losses which followed and the gradual diminution of national unity which had stirred in the immediate aftermath. I will forever have moments of 9/11 burned into my memory. For my daughter and my eventual (hopefully) grandchildren, it will be a moment of history, like the assassination of JFK is for me.
There is nothing so important that it will not be politicized…. and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Shortly after the September 11th attacks and for years afterward, accusations of politicizing 9/11 flew freely. For the most part, I viewed such actions as crass when true, and the allegations as dishonorable when false or misleading. I wanted a national tragedy to be free of cheap politics, and I was deeply offended by things like the criticisms of Bush for finishing “The Pet Goat” rather than panic a bunch of children (and the nation). This changed for me when Taliban members were invited to Camp David over the 9/11 weekend. While I still feel that 9/11 should be kept clear of campaigning, it is now obvious to me that a basic level of recognition and respect is necessary. I missed that because I felt it did not need to be said, that no leadership within my lifetime would show casual disregard for American victims of terrorism or the many soldiers killed or wounded fighting international jihadists.
Heroism is not absolute. For as much attention has been given to the utter capitulation and betrayal by pundits, politicians and religious leaders, there have been few who have utterly demeaned themselves to the level of Rudy Giuliani. He has demonstrated himself to be devoid of principle, of decency, of character. For all of that, it does not diminish his bravery, decisiveness and leadership on 9/11 and the days which immediately followed. It is tempting to try retroactively to undermine his greatness after the attacks, or to use those days to mediate the depths of his current depravity. In truth, both can be valid. I think this might be the most valuable lesson of them all, for me… that trust and appreciation earned in no way indicates true purity, and that I should always investigate when I begin to suspect chicanery.
Those are just some of the big things that I’ve learned, not about 9/11 but because of the tragedy. Are there any lessons you’ve learned, and do you have issues with any of my conclusions?
*As Tyrconnel points out in the comments, McVeigh and Nichols did not consider themselves practicing Christians at the time of their actions.