Just another 10th Anniversary 9-11 reflection, and a call to real change

On this day 10 years ago, as the anchors said, and still say, "everything changed." And for the families of those that were killed, for the relatives of the grieving thousands, for all those who were somehow closely tied to the horror of that day, everything did change.

But beyond this, how much has really changed?  Fear is still ratcheted up; security is still and ever our god, as trust erodes; and violence in all its forms is further entrenched, even as its effectiveness steadily vanishes. Normal has simply gotten worse.

Seems to me that to believe that everything has changed is to ignore the ubiquity of our old disease and its symptoms, there for all to see. To believe that everything has changed, that 9-11 somehow exposed our nationalistic innocence and vulnerability is just another way the age-old lie of sacrificial violence is maintained.

Think back to the ensuing days of 9-11. Were we not all caught up? Suddenly we were all patriots. A phrase that echoed through the western world’s networks was, "We are all Americans now." And suddenly the churches were full—most every church flying an American flag. A spontaneous and unholy impression of unanimity. With our ersatz kinship and goodness suddenly rediscovered, we hastily sought a target for our now justified outrage. No questioning the declaration of vengeance issued by the American president from behind a church pulpit. No reflection beyond retaliation, only a question of how soon.

In this kind of collective unrest blame finds its target; the target’s guilt obvious by virtue of it being targeted, and so excluded; and the death and destruction of distant neighbourhoods or nations, neatly vindicated.

What can descend like dew in this confusion? Can artists, poets, and writers, regardless of faith, put flesh on the bleaching bones of peace and liberation?

This is a time for the dew of beauty to descend. A time like so many other times. And yet, a heightened and urgent time, if only for the stark and burgeoning fact that there are no other solutions than mercy and nonviolence. (A mercy modelled and lived out best, to my mind, by Jesus.)

The way of mercy and nonviolence is all we have left. It was only and always what we had left, but we were taken in by the lie of sacrificial violence, co-opted by a culture based on death. If not growing mercy, and precipitous nonviolence, as remote as this appears, what remains, is apocalyptic violence—the escalation to extreme forms of reciprocal reprisals.

Yet, in the midst of this long shot are outbreaks of truth and compassion, humanizing moments, emerging groups of non-possessed people. So here’s a call to the artists and artisans to become the new anchors of real change.


  1. Al-Qaeda declared war on the West, it asked for no individual leaders to be brought in for charges in a normal court of law to answer their greivances. Throughout the 1990s the Clinton Administration displayed remarkable restraint in its effort to dismantle international terrorism through international law and diplomacy. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush Administration sent an ultimatum demanding the Taliban hand over Al-Qaeda leadership to avoid an invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban refused, playing into the hands of Al-Qaeda. When you state, “We were taken in by the lie of sacrificial violence, co-opted by a culture based on death” you apply it to American society. But I think it better summarizes the lives of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman Zawihiri, other Al-Qaeda leaders and the 9/11 hijackers.

  2. The violent revenge has cost more North American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan than were lost on 9/11, so what has that “solution” done for the West so far? Are we more secure? –less fearful? economically stable? more emotionally and spiritually whole? Does not wisdom call for at least a review of numerous historic nonviolent resolutions of international conflicts for what they can teach us? Certainly the consequence of diplomatic “mercy and non violence” would be no worse, and we would avoid becoming what we hate.

  3. Stephen,

    In the most general sense, things have not really changed. Our worst characteristics have perhaps become more fully exemplified (fear, discrimination, a failure to understand difference but a tendency to stereotype, hypocrisy, etc.). As you state, “our churches were suddenly full”, but sadly, the preaching was too often of retaliation, rather than forgiveness. I was having great difficulty with all the memorializing over the past week. For what purpose? To fuel the anger and hatred? To sharpen the state of fear? To honor the fallen from that day? What about all those who have died fighting (sometimes in a country not at all involved in the attacks) or at the hands of our military (perhaps in retaliation)?

    One of my favorite stories that appeared over the past week was surprisingly enough from CNN: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/10/remembering-911-an-unexpected-gift-to-america/. The story of the Maasai gift says much about the sense of compassion that remains amongst some cultures. Have we been as thoughtful in their times of drought, and now, the pipeline explosion? Or are we still so self-focused that empathy escapes us?

    In 2010, Pakistan suffered extreme flooding – the worse in 80 years. A death toll near 1000, 20 million people affected. Did we pay much attention? Not really. After all, it is an Islamic country and we have sadly lumped all of “those types” together and associated them with 911. After all, bin Laden was found there. (Please know that I am being sarcastic here – just to be clear.) I still lament the loss of human life and know that even the poor and even the evil, have someone who loves them and is grieving over the loss.

    Meteorologists have linked the unusually heavy monsoon flooding in Pakistan to the hottest summer on record and massive fires in Russia in 2010. Something called an abnormal Rossby wave. I have no idea what that is, but I am sure that our climate change deniers in Texas (on fire literally and figuratively this year) and in the flooded northeast/mid-Atlantic region would never succumb to the idea that maybe we should pay attention to the climate models. Or at least the idea that Mother Nature can get pretty cranky sometime and perhaps we should treat her planet and her people a bit nicer.

    So we lick our wounds from the heat waves, and fires, and floods, and hold memorial services “to remember”, but we don’t ask what needs to be altered in our lives, our lifestyles. We go on. After all, we are survivors. Nothing changes.

  4. Stephen, of course there has been a lot of discourse on 9/11, but your message, simple and true, is where I wish we could all be. How we squandered the goodwill as other nations reached out to us! They say it was a time of national unity–but it could have been a time of human unity. It could have been a time to tear down the walls and erase the lines. One can only hope that there might, some day, be a critical mass of humans who agree. So keep writing.

  5. Ian, I appreciate your challenging comment, thank you.

    My questioning of our democratic neighbour is not a defence of Al-Qaeda. There can be no reasoned defence of 9-11.

    Regarding former president Clinton, I applaud any and all attempts at sincere diplomacy, but I’m not sure of that administration’s overall restraint. The bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was a reprisal for the alleged torture of Islamic jihadists, but of course, it was clearly an escalation, a provocation by Bin Laden. And perhaps this was the last straw for Clinton, which resulted in the cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan. However, the destruction of the pharmaceutical factory that made anti-malaria drugs, without which subsequently caused the death of untold thousands of Africans, on the pretence of nerve gas manufacturing, which after the strike the USA refused to investigate and so verify, ultimately gave Bin Laden his momentum; up to then he was a relative unknown in the Arab and Muslim world. Remember as well that to a large part, it was Reagan’s support of the mujahideen, that gave us the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the first place.

    You are right that my inference regarding sacrificial violence is directed at American culture, I am reflecting on the upshot of 9-11. But of course it applies to all cultures, and yes, you are right as well that it summarizes al-Qaeda. But it applies equally to me. It applies, profoundly, to us all. To go on believing that violence and death gives birth to peace, that the sacrifice of one, a group, a nation, saves and secures another, is the lie of Caiaphas. This is simply and fundamentally the ubiquitous lie of ‘redemptive’ violence. If the gospel of peace and nonviolence applies only to our private lives, and not to all realms of human activity, then I suppose all there is left is to argue moral equivalency about this side or that; even as we draw closer to being sucked into the vortex of total war.

  6. Ike, thank you. Wisdom should at least call for such a review. And of course there have been inspirational nonviolent resolutions in the past. Thank you for the reminder and should we refuse, the warning of becoming what we hate.

  7. Thank you Diane, and thank you for passing along that beautiful story of human understanding and hope.

    I also appreciate your bringing the health of our earth into the discussion on violence. The relevancy is often lost on us. I don’t believe it’s too much of a stretch…but I’m reminded of the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus where climactic upheavals are mixed with and spoken of in the same way as war.

    Thank you again.

  8. Sally, I very much appreciate your thoughts. Yes, a critical mass of human unity in place of national unity…to that end we’ll keep hoping and writing and keep the candles burning.

    It’s good as well for us Canadians to hear from our American neighbours. So thank you.

  9. We like having a villain and taking sides, but it’s like most of you have said—it’s solved little. After the bombing in Norway this past July, media groups quickly began reporting on jihadist organizations because it fit the story we’ve been telling each other since 9/11. But lunatics aren’t limited to any one ethinic or religious group. As Todd Babiuk of the Edmonton Journal put it this week, “It has been a decade of duelling stupidities.”

  10. Stephen,
    Ever since reading your comment above earlier this afternoon, I have been contemplating the links between environmental degradation and violence (cause and effects in both directions, I think), nature and well-being, and the literature that shows the psychological effects and alterations in behavior that accompany “nature-deficit disorder”. Richard Louv is probably best known with regards to the latter, but Julie Newton from the U.K. pulled together an extensive bibliography of research examining the potential connections between well-being and the natural world. And for the second time in a week, I am reminded of Bernadette Cozart who was responsible for the regreening of Harlem, because she felt that all children, all people, needed something of beauty in their lives, so that they didn’t turn to drugs, theft, and violence. I may have to pull this all out again as fodder for a future blog piece.

    I want to keep pondering this, but it is getting late and I must finish things for my *real* job!

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