Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Helen Keller
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin
I said on Sunday that that was not the day to discuss my thoughts about 9/11 from the perspective of ten years on. Today, however, is.
Looking back on that horrific day and all the 3,652 that followed, one thing becomes abundantly clear to me:
The terrorists won.
They won with the assistance of the government, the media, and large segments of the American populace. They accomplished their goal of turning us against each other, of destroying the nation we are, or were.
To be clear, the object of terrorism is not to kill people. The main object is to instill terror. Abortion clinics are bombed not just to hurt anyone inside, but to make any woman think twice about going into one, and any health care provider hesitate to work there. For every abortion doctor killed, there are others who decide to either go out of the business or never begin in the first place.
The 9/11 bombers, and those behind them, managed to make us lose our collective minds. They made us afraid of anyone who appeared Middle Eastern, resulting in stories like this one of an American citizen being pulled off a plane, held for hours, having to face the humiliation of being stripped searched, all because she was a dark-skinned woman who happened to be seated with two dark-skinned men in the same row, and who had the gall to be using her cell phone. Suspicious activity, indeed. Clearly, a terrorist cell at work.
They turned us into a nation that…. No, we turned ourselves into a nation that would be complacent about arresting and detaining people for years without any real level of due process because they were suspected terrorists. Where individuals that the government admitted were innocent were held because they could not go back to their homeland without fear of death and God forbid that we admit our mistakes and allow them to stay in the U.S. As everyone knows, if you are taken to Guantanamo, you must be a terrorist, right?
We turned into a nation where a large number of people condone the previously unthinkable. All of a sudden, for too many people — especially people in government and media — torture became an unfortunate but acceptable way of extracting information, rather than a tool of tyranny that we had too much decency to resort to. And the level of fear became such that demagogues and bigots could feel comfortable saying outrageous things, such as “communities should be able to ban mosques if they want to,” and where scarily high proportions of people believe that Muslims should not be allowed to sit on the Supreme Court (24% of respondents) or run for President (32%) and that simply by virtue of their religion Muslims cannot be patriotic Americans (25%). So much for the first Amendment.* Where a blogger can be lauded by his commenters for suggesting, in a calm, rational, sad way that it is not only acceptable to kill children, but a moral imperative to do so.
One of the voices of sanity in an insane world, Paul Krugman, has called the years post 9/11 “The Years of Shame.” He gets it right. Exactly.
We have allowed our fear to destroy our civic soul. We have placed a frantic need for illusory personal security above the ideals which purportedly underlie who we are as a nation.
The attacks on 9/11 were a challenge to all of us, and in the long run we failed.
*I would include links to
conservative Islamophobic blogs on this, but just reading the commentary made me ill, and I refuse to give them more traffic. (I know conservatives who are decent, rational people, and I think it is time that those of us in the progressive movement stop using “conservative” in a way that automatically equates to “racist.”) I think it was the nicely formatted, very attractive blog which spewed the poison that Islam was by its very nature a threat to the U.S., and that Muslims should not be allowed to be in the country, let alone do anything as radical as hold public office, that bothered me the most. The nastiest, most virulent hatred phrased in the most genteel, calm language. And I have linked to my post about the “killing children is okay” post rather than the original because the thought of revisiting the sewer that spawned that discussion makes me nauseous.