Sunday, September 11, 2011


Remembering 9/11

Ten years ago, we were all terribly frightened and we were mourning the unbearable losses of our own families or those of others. The question "why do they hate us?" was raised frequently but few were in a position to think about an answer.

But now it is ten years later and the newspapers are engaged in an orgy of remembering 9/11. Not a day passes without several articles in the paper and programs on the radio remembering, telling stories about the individual experiences connected with 9/11. But as far as I can tell, still no one raises the question "why do they hate us?" That important question has still not been confronted. Instead the pain and fear of 10 years ago is being rehearsed over and over again. We are, frankly, encouraged to feel sorry for ourselves.

Ten years ago, many people thought that we were innocent victims. We had done nothing to earn the enmity of the people in the Middle East, or of Muslims. The current wave of self-pity tends to encourage that sense of innocent victimhood and thereby discourages any inclination to think seriously about our role in that terrible day.

It is common wisdom that conflicts between individuals or nations result from both parties and their actions. It should be common wisdom for us to ask ourselves whether our very unpopularity around the world is not in part the result of what we have done, of the positions we have taken, of the way we have to talked to, and talked about other people on earth.

It is my sense, that we owe our unpopularity, in part, to our own actions and that we bear part of the responsibility for 9/11. Let's just take some clear examples.

            To put it in plain English, Americans consider themselves superior to the rest of the world. The members of the State Department may not drive around with a license plate saying "America -- Number 1" but our Secretary of State regularly goes around the world lecturing people, telling them what to do and letting them know whether we approve of them or not. That is not only arrogant, but it does not make us popular. It you don't believe me, listen carefully the next time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes it into the newspaper or on the evening news. Is she being respectful of other nations?

We don't need to go far back into history to discover why people don't like us a whole lot: we are not only rude but also often dishonest and hypocritical. We participated in bombing Libya in order, we said, to protect civilians. The Libyan government threatened civilians. The government of Syria has killed more than 2000 people and we have done nothing to speak of. What's the difference? The White House and the State Department have not really said. But there is a widespread perception that control of Libyan oil is of great interest to us; oil in Syria is not. Moreover oil is more important than people and their liberty. But our government would never admit that. We present ourselves to the world as terribly high-minded. We only care about freedom and democracy. We poses as champions of freedom and democracy. 
But when the people in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Bahrain and Yemen, as in Libya and Syria, revolted, the US hung back, overly anxious not to offend the autocratic rulers of countries that sell their oil to us or who were, for other reasons our allies. It took many weeks before we dared to say publicly that we supported and welcomed the rebellions. We proved ourselves to be excessively timid and lukewarm champions of freedom and democracy.

No wonder we are unpopular.

Terrorism is not only the result of poverty and desperation. It arises sometimes, at least, from righteous anger. It we managed to to treat people more respectfully and were less dishonest, we might well be a lot safer in this world.

That should be one of the lessons of 9/11.