Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell
September 6, 2011
The passing of a decade since the attacks on the U.S by Al Qaeda in September 2001 is an opportunity to face questions we have long evaded.
For many Americans this is a time of reflection. Some of us bear the pain of the loss of loved ones. Others of us carry the scars of survivors. Most of us share the trauma of bearing witness to unimaginable destruction. All of us know we are living in a very different world because of the events of that day.
Almost as soon as the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon became clear many people asked the important question of why. Why did someone attack us in such a way?
As quickly as this question surfaced, it was buried under the story pushed by the Bush Administration. The story claimed Al Qaeda was a terrorist organization, fueled by a radical Islamic belief that the U.S. was evil. This story, repeated in the media, satisfied most Americans who were able to tell themselves that irrational religious fanatics were bent on our destruction.
But the question persists. Nearly a half century ago, in his opposition to another ill chosen war, Dr. Martin Luther King challenged Americans to look at the point of view of those who oppose us. He said:
“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
Al Qaeda told us why they attacked us. They objected to US policies in the Middle East. They especially objected to the presence of the U.S. military in Arabic countries and to the uncritical support given the Israeli government. The symbols they chose were clear. The World Trade Center represented the financial impact of global capital, backed by the military might symbolized by the Pentagon. The Capitol represented the government and its policies.
This attack was politically motivated. It questioned the role the U.S was playing in dominating Arabic states in order to protect our access to oil.
By evading this question, we have continued to obscure what Dr. King called “a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”
Lacking the maturity that comes from the courage to face our weakness, Dr King saw us becoming a nation that plays “the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.” He said, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin… the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
In the course of this decade, in the name of fighting terrorism, we have become a nation that justifies torture, the wanton invasion of nations that did us no harm, the killing of thousands upon thousands of innocent people and the disruption of the lives of others. We have become a more brutal and less conscious people, fostering vengeance rather than understanding.
Today our brothers and sisters throughout the Arab world are finding ways to create their lives anew. We have the opportunity on this anniversary to look at how we can create a different world. It begins with an honest look at ourselves.