Students and teachers silently gawked up at a television screen showing smoke billowing wildly out of the smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers. A woman held her hand over her mouth, eyes wide and filling with tears as a look of horror overtook her face. I was in a middle school classroom then, but it felt like gliding through a still dream, and I did not immediately comprehend that I had witnessed the slaughter of a city.
Ash and flame consumed 2,977 souls on Sept. 11, 2001, the day we promised to never forget—but did. Or rather, the intelligentsia insisted we forget. Most Americans viewed what happened in New York City as a heinous attack cutting at the nation’s heart. The intelligentsia saw their global village of diversity and inclusion threatened. Tragedy temporarily impeded the march of globalization, multiculturalism, and cosmopolitanism, while breathing new if fleeting life into the mouth of nationalism. Some, however, couldn’t even wait until the dead were laid to rest before resuming their projects to undermine America from within.
In October 2001, as brigades worked to clear rubble and debris at “Ground Zero,” the post-colonialist huckster Edward Said viciously assailed Westerners for their anti-Islamic bigotry and ignorance in a piece for The Nation. He took aim at political scientist and critic of Islam Samuel Huntington, writing, “‘The Clash of Civilizations’ thesis is a gimmick like ‘The War of the Worlds,’ better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding of the bewildering interdependence of our time.” Huntington was a proxy for Said’s real target: the West. Said pioneered a Foucauldian critique of the West as an inherently oppressive historical force, and worried that Sept. 11 might make us lose sight of the sins of the West. He need not have anguished much.
Eight years later, in the wake of another attack by a self-proclaimed “Soldier of Allah,” Americans would again be chided by their betters about the perils of “defensive self-pride.”
Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he murdered 13 and wounded more than 30 others during a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2009. The FBI knew Hasan had communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, the terrorist leader of al-Qaeda’s operations in Yemen, nearly a year before the attack. Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters that agents and analysts did the right thing by doing nothing about Hasan considering the “fairly benign” nature of those communiqués, as one senior investigator put it.
So harmless was Hasan’s correspondence that the FBI didn’t want the public to see it, and the military judge in the Hasan case barred the prosecutor from presenting it on the grounds it would cause “unfair prejudice” and “undue delay.” When the FBI finally and quietly published those messages, they revealed Hasan had asked about the morality of suicide bombing, whether it was permissible to kill civilians, and whether al-Awlaki considered those who died attacking their fellow soldiers to be martyrs. Benign indeed.
The Department of Defense classified the attack as an incident of “workplace violence.” The Army’s chief of staff at the time, General George Casey, lamented how close the regime’s sacred cow had come to suffering an untimely death. “As horrific as this tragedy was,” he sniffed, “if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
Though Casey’s comments may have confused and upset Americans then just as Said’s did in Oct. 2001, the general was merely paying reverence to the political religion of the United States. September 11 in New York and Nov. 5 at Fort Hood were attacks on Americans whom the United States government views as needing as much—if not more—management, reeducation, and repression as do foreign terrorists.
By 2019, Muslim Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota could only bring herself to speak of that day in the vaguest of terms. After all, the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), she said, “was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” Setting aside that CAIR was, in reality, founded in 1994, Omar’s comments betray the consensus view of the ruling class regarding Sept. 11: the real tragedy was not the loss of life, but that Muslims felt discriminated against.
Just five years after the attacks, the country elected its first Muslim Congressman, the rabidly anti-American Keith Ellison. In 2018, another Democrat, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, celebrated her primary victory in her bid to become—alongside Omar—one of America’s first female Muslim congresswomen by delivering a speech while draped in the Palestinian flag. She later donned traditional Palestinian garb for her swearing-in ceremony and promised to use her perch to be a voice for Palestinians.
In the end, it didn’t take long for many Americans to internalize the intelligentsia’s view that perhaps we deserved Sept. 11. Its memory would only occasionally serve to remind us that, however awful that day was, and although the body count remains unparalleled, white nationalists—especially the Christian ones—have been the face of terrorism in America ever since. Bush II himself took the Saidian line after the death of George Floyd; he remarked that it is “time for America to examine our tragic failures” and asked, “How do we end systemic racism in our society?”
above: Joy Reid and Matthew Dowd on MSNBC on July 6, 2021 (YouTube)
The Sept. 11 attacks are now only spoken of when asserting that New Yorkers leaping from burning windows to an instantaneous death on the pavement below pales in comparison to the events of Jan. 6. Indeed, Republican strategist Matthew Dowd, having since repented of his days working for former President George W. Bush, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that “January 6th was worse than 9/11.”
In the societies of ancient Rome and Egypt, individuals would be wiped from history as punishment for some heinous deed in what is known today as damnatio memoriae—a “condemnation of memory.” This was, in theory, intended to protect the polity from dishonor and from the gods' disfavor. In the spirit of modernity we do something worse. We selectively remember in order to transvalue tragedy; the events we choose to remember and how we choose to remember them is not intended to inspire us, but instead to inculcate shame.
We’ve been encouraged to forget about 9/11 because a people able to clearly remember who they are, what has been done to them, and who is on which side, is dangerous.