In Memory of 9/11

Tonight’s drive home from work was not particularly special. I stopped by the day care to pick up my daughter, ran by Target to get one or two necessities, talked to a friend I had not seen in a while, and was back on the road toward home in no time. As I drove, I listened to MPR’s All Things Considered report on terror suspects at the Mall of America. But that’s just the thing, they were perceived suspects as a result of something that they did at the mall. One old man forgot his cell phone at the food court and was considered suspicious. Another man displayed strange walking behavior, and was also considered suspect (turns out the later was just looking for a toy for his son). Disturbing reports? In my opinion yes! But that opinion is not the same for authorities at the Mall who were just trying to protect the public from possible acts of terror. I believe that it is safe to say that it was fear that motivated them to pursue these suspects, fear of the other.

This fear of the other, or people not like us, has increased since 9/11. Through different policies, regulations, armed forces, and so many other things, we have tried to keep people from being able to perpetrate the same events that robbed this world of thousands of lives. Our goal, I believe, has been legitimate, I mean, who would want the events of 9/11 to ever be repeated? However, in doing so, we have often singled out people, innocent people, profiling them simply because they fit the description of the other. And more specifically, the religious other.

How do we get beyond this fear? Do we even want to? Can we name it? Juan Williams named his fear and got in trouble. But does that get us anywhere, or at least anywhere desirable? What would happen if we replaced our fear of the other, whether they be Muslim, Christian, Democrat, Republican, Atheist, a Tea Party Advocate, male, female, poor or rich, with genuine heartfelt love. Perfect love drives out all fear. How can we begin to love the other perfectly? Even more than this, how do we begin to love in such a way that we no longer divide ourselves against the other, and instead reach out across cultural barriers to embrace a new way of life?

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One thought on “In Memory of 9/11

  1. academicalism

    How can we begin to love the other perfectly? Even more than this, how do we begin to love in such a way that we no longer divide ourselves against the other, and instead reach out across cultural barriers to embrace a new way of life?

    You ask an important, maybe impossible question, but a question I (who am other to you, as you are to me) welcome as timely, two days after the leader of my country claimed in a national broadcast that “Islamicism” is “the biggest threat to Canada.” Not social inequality. Not climate change. “Islamicism.” A word virtually plagiarized from the playbook of the former leader of your country, a word that in one chilling moment exposed the leader of my country as a racist (and one ridiculously out of touch with his constituents). Some have responded to his remark with thoughtful criticism, but too many more have just echoed and amplified the statement’s ignorance and hate.

    But I don’t write to soapbox, to shame a head of state who clearly couldn’t answer your crucial question. I don’t think I can answer it either. But I write to take up your question, to reply as one possible other. I write in response to your reflections on September 11, 2001 (which I blogged about this week too), and in response to your post’s call to the other, as it were — a call worth responding to, not presuming to have an answer, but hoping instead to be a kind of answer: a reciprocal echo of openness and receptivity to the other, the unknown, maybe the unknowable. This writing tries to think through the writing of the other, taking the attempt seriously, and, in the process, suggesting a different way to comment on online writing with implications for how we encounter otherness. Comments are too often characterized more by presumptive judgment and casual cruelty than by critical reflection (maybe less so among bloggers, but dramatically so under news articles). Maybe just rejuvenating “netiquette” might be one small, practical step towards more openness to the other. In any event, thank you for writing and for hearing out this reply.

    “You can’t presume to know and grasp the Other. The minute you think you know the Other you’re ready to kill them. You think, ‘Oh, they’re doing this or that, they’re the Axis of Evil, let’s drop some bombs.” But if you confront the possibility that you don’t know, you don’t understand this alterity — that it’s so Other that you can’t violate it with your sense of understanding — then you have to let it live.” – Avital Ronnell

    My blog post about September 11 is at:
    http://academicalism.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/the-line-the-skyline-between-then-and-now/

    The quotation from Avital Ronnell is from her interview in Examined Life: Excursions with Contemporary Thinkers (New York: New Press, 2009, p. 49).

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