September 11th, 2001, we are constantly reminded, is a day we as Americans should never forget. It’s not an easy series of events to forget, so I’m not sure if the commandment is supposed to be literal. I wondered aloud on my Facebook page if, contrary to popular opinion, we should collectively forget the day. If, say, my school with a large first and second generation Middle Eastern population shouldn’t host a “patriotic” day of remembrance for an event that is often used as justification to kill Muslims and occupy Muslim lands.
But some of my friends, rightly, protested. Grief, after all, is a complicated process. And though I don’t want, personally, to remember, always remember the feelings I had that dreadful day – the shock, the horror, the confusion, the constant need for updates, the, well, terror – there are still many who need to work out their loss. It was, however we slice it, a momentous day for us, collectively. We felt vulnerable as a super power.
We felt, on that day, what many Bolivians and Peruvians and First Nations peoples, and Iraqis and Columbians and Palestinians and Afghans felt before and since – that our lives are at-risk, that we are not safe from imminent death for the sins of our leaders. But this time, instead of us exporting that terror (whether through the CIA or US military or military aid), it came to us. Instead of innocent civilians dying there, innocent civilians died here.
And nobody deserves that. No group of people should be terrorized.
So I wonder, in a world where the War on Terror is still happening; where Muslims in America are still under threat of imminent violence; where Pam Geller and a leading Christian publication and even New Atheists are still advocating for the complete annihilation of Arabs and Muslims (the two are not synonymous, but you wouldn’t know that through reading their garbage) throughout the world; where patriotism is largely short-hand for “We are never wrong and if you criticize us, we will bomb your ass”, do we really need to focus so much on our innocence, on the 3,000 who died that day? What of the millions who were killed and injured as a result of our so-called War on Terror? What of the Muslim people among us (or those confused for Muslim and Arab, such as Sikhs and Indian-Americans?) and the threat they live under if they are not thought sufficiently patriotic?*
Can we seek an alternative day, set apart for recognizing the hurt of others often forgotten by – and often caused by – the US? The day after September 11th, instead of ceding that to Glenn Beck and his racist followers, can be a day for remembrance for all those lost through the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as our ventures in Pakistan and various other countries in the Middle East. It will be a day to solemnly remember the unnecessary deaths due to bombs, IEDs, American weapons, drones. It would remember kidnappings of supposed terrorists – the majority of whom were really ordinary citizens – and our torture of many of them and rendition without trial for years at a time.
What if September 12th was for the victims of terrorism following in the wake of September 11th? May we pledge to “Never forget” and to make amends for our own sins.
But also, what if December 8th, right after Pearl Harbor Day, we remembered those Japanese American families we interred – upwards of 120,000 of them. We can enjoy our Thanksgiving, but then remember (and pledge to fight for) the people who lived on this land and whom we have and continue to erase from. On the Fourth of July we celebrate our freedoms, but on the 3rd we recall the slavery (and women servitude, and Jim Crow, and selective suffrage) that served as the ironic antithesis within our own nation. Perhaps we can read Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is Your Fourth of July?” as a national ritual.
I dare say these addendum will not tarnish the original holidays. In the spirit of the provocative progressive, I believe we’ve already tarnished our legacies and we must own up to them, while keeping vigil that we not repeat the mistakes of the past in the future nor the present. While we cannot overturn the Japanese internment, we can recognize how we treat non-white citizens when we are officially at war with their ancestral homes. We can’t give the entire United States geography back to the First Nations, but we can seek to end the genocidal practices of settler colonialism here and abroad.
We can do right, if we remember right.
*Anybody remember how so many Arab/Muslim-identified Americans plastered their businesses with the US flag after the events? If it was over-kill, it was likely an act of self-defense.
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