.journal 2001.09.21

Now listening to: Björk, Vespertine
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Drawing Blood; Sylvia Plath, The Collected Poems
Now playing: Final Fantasy VII (Playstation)

For ten days I've been thinking about the events of 09.11. For the most part, everything else in my life has just felt like it's been on the periphery -- school, work, relaxation. I've been struggling with all the news and opinions that have been slamming into my head, trying to make sense of such senselessness. I wanted to do a journal entry the afternoon of the tragedy, but I decided to wait until I had a better idea of what was going on, a better idea of what I wanted to say.

I still don't know what to say.

I don't pretend that this journal is some great ongoing doctrine. I'm just someone in the world, trying to go about my business, who likes to write about experiences. I seem to have a gift for writing, and there are some people who like to read what I put out here for everyone to see. Although I don't tend to keep that many friends these days, they genuinely value my opinions, and I theirs. But even if I had a clear head about this situation, I know I wouldn't be the one to offer the "great solution" that would make everything all right. So I expect this entry is going to be even more incomprehensible than my usual standard, and it probably won't have a point at the end. But I need to put something up here, I just have to, for myself if not for others.

I suppose I should start with my background in all this. I know I chastize the private school I went to from fourth until twelvth grades an awful lot, but one of the good things about going there was that I was exposed to a very diverse student body, especially considerings its small size. (At any time there were only about 160 students in the "high school" levels while I was there.) There were considerable numbers of both Jewish and Muslim students in the student body, and so I was made considerably aware of both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict. While my own political activity was more focused on personal rights, I nevertheless kept half an eye on news about the Middle East conflict.

As the years have gone on, maybe I haven't focused so much on international politics, except as far as my Anglophilia and Japanophilia took me. When it comes down to it, I just don't identify myself as an American or my beliefs with the "American Way." Maybe I do live in the greatest country on earth, but we've done so many bad things in my lifetime that I can't bring myself to anything even remotely resembling patriotism. I've never registered to vote, and after the debacle of last year's presidential election I probably never will. Maybe I'm not being the "good citizen" I keep hearing about in my college classes, but I can live with that.

I had just finished lunch on the morning of 09.11 (I have to take lunch early due to my college and work schedule) when my mother, who was up visiting with her mother in Michigan, called my sister's cell phone. My sister hadn't been up for that long, but she turned to CNN about a few minutes after the second plane smashed the World Trade Centre. Heather never did tell me what had happened, I was left to wait until the CNN anchors repeated what had happened. At first I thought it could have just been a fire or an isolated bomb, but once I understood that both towers had been hit by separate planes, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized just what was going on.

As I was upstairs getting around to go to school, confirmation of the Pentagon fire being caused by another plane crash came in; I think I left before the Pennsylvania crash, but on the way to campus I was listening to NPR. (I normally have public radio on when I'm driving anyway.) I even dug my headset radio out so I could keep listening to the developments as I was walking to classes. That just ended up being one class, though, because by the time I got to my second class, UT decided to just let everyone out.

I came back here to the hotel, then took my sister in to work. Although neither of us really felt like working, everyone in the family knows someone who lives or works in or around one of the crash sites, and after the house fire most of them try to get in touch with us at work as opposed to the hotel. Thankfully everyone my family knows was confirmed to be safe within a short amount of time. At work, though, we kept checking online for developments, and tuned in our CBS and ABC affiliates into the television we keep around to look at whatever video tapes come our way. I don't think I ever needed to scratch Rowan after work like I did that night.

I kept following the developments for several days, not that any of us have had much choice in the matter. Thankfully the mailing lists I belong to include large numbers of non-United States members, and so I've been able to glean international perspectives, and see just how biased some of our news reporting has been. But I'm still trying to get a hold of the bigger picture in all of this, and it's continually eluding me. No matter how many facts I get, no matter how many opinions I hear, they never seem to be enough. I have to provide the glue to put all these disparate things together, and I don't have it.

As to who's behind it all, there seem to be enough fingers pointing to Osama bin Laden. Maybe he did it in concert with other groups, maybe alone, I'll leave that to other people to figure out. But whoever did it must have been in great pain to have carried all this out. I'm sorry, but crazy people simply do not have the ability, even in concert, to have carried out such an utterly brilliant plan. And before anyone gets any ideas, I mean "brilliant" only in the sense of being tactically sound and effective; I certainly would never condone what happened 09.11 in any shape or form. What was done was wrong, period.

Even if an action is wrong, though, that does not mean its motivation shouldn't be looked into. In all the media coverage I've seen since 09.11, no one has really tried to explain why Osama bin Laden (and I'm not entirely comfortable assuming him as the mastermind at this point) would do such a horrible, horrible thing. It's just assumed that he's either some madman or that he's doing all this for his own jollies. Perhaps the mass media feel like they need to play their role in "rallying America," but even at a time like this, the journalistic principle of two sides to every story needs to be withheld.

In the aftermath of World War I, Adolf Hitler saw a Germany where reparations, hyperinflation, the worldwide economic depression and a devastated citizenry had transformed his country into an empty shell. When Hitler did the things he did, he was trying to rebuild his country, to make his land and his fellow citizens strong once more, to undo what had gutted his homeland. Everyone focuses on the means by which Hitler tried to achieve this goal, and I would be the first person to say that the Holocaust was the worst episode of modern human history and Hitler deserves every condemnation that can be laid upon him. But Hitler did not exterminate the Jews simply to exterminate the Jews; he exterminated the Jews because that was what, in his diseased mind, he believed was necessary to rebuild Germany.

Nothing can ever condone the action of mass murder, but that does not invalidate the motivation. And if a group of people is able to organize an effort where tens of their own group are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of killing even greater numbers of the people they see as their enemy, maybe it would help us if we took a look at what is making them tick, why so many would be willing to give their own lives to do something as horrible as killing so many others. Then maybe we can do something to remedy their pain, so they don't kill us or themselves.

So what is it that would make Osama bin Laden and his followers do something like this? I'm sorry, but when it comes to Middle East relations, the United States needs to wake the hell up. I'm not saying the Palestinians are saints, but Israel has been far from perfect in their own right. Yet America is the only industrialized nation to provide such unequivocable support to the Israeli government, while our counterparts take a more egalitarian approach, and can see that maybe what the world did to Palestine after World War II wasn't exactly right, and Israel isn't right to be doing some of the things they're doing to Palestinians. (Not that Palestine isn't doing wrong things to Israelis, but neither side justifies the other's actions.)

The rest of the world sees that since we (meaning both the U.S. and the other countries responsible for the relocation of Jewish people into Palestine after World War II) were the ones who made this mess in the holyland, we should be the ones to clean it up. And part of that cleanup should be to make sure that both groups have their own fair amount of land and can live in it in peace. Contrast that to the attitude of the current administration, which was to take a million steps back and say, "You all keep killing each other and maybe we'll help you sort it out later and then again maybe we won't." All the while, though, we keep pumping money and military might into Israel, while Palestine only has the support of its much less abundant neighbouring Arabic countries. If the Israeli/Palestine conflict comes down to the last person standing, does anyone really think that person will be Palestinian?

Maybe that will help you see where Osama bin Laden could be coming from in all of this. That still doesn't condone his actions, and I want to see him brought to justice for all he has done as much as the rest of you do. But in case you all haven't been studying the situation in the Middle East well enough, there are tons of other people down there who are just waiting for something like us forcibly taking Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan or, worse yet, attacking a whole Arabian country, to begin their own action, to use our action as a way of rallying people who would not normally get involved in a conflict like this. If we "take out" Osama bin Laden, we're going to wind up with three people like him in his place. Maybe they won't be as well-financed, but they could be just as smart, and no matter what kinds of precautions you take, people who are smart enough, and determined enough, will find ways to circumvent them.

Sadly, military action looks inevitable at this point. Why bother trying to craft a solution with people when you can just exterminate them? I don't care how precise our military is (and after what happened 09.11 I think we have great reason to doubt that precision), no act they can take will exempt innocents from death, whether we're talking about native Afghanis, our own troops or the troops of whatever countries join us in action. And too many people have died already. Killing only begets more killing, and we are no better than the people who were behind the events of 09.11 if we simply accept the deaths of more and more innocent people as an inevitability.

As someone on one of my mailing lists said, this is no time for partisan politics. But I am not in such radical opposition to Dubya simply because he is a Republican, or simply because he improperly obtained the office most people currently recognize him as holding. The bottom line is that Dubya is greviously incompetent for the tasks that he has been charged with, especially this national crisis. I'm not saying Al Gore is significantly more inspiring a figurehead to have addressing the nation, but at least he has a brain that functions at a significantly higher level than most people's.

You can say that Dubya has at least surrounded himself with smart people around him to be doing his job for him, but I'm still not entirely convinced of that. And the fact that the Republicans have been in the back pocket of the defense industry for so long has me worried about what is to come. So long as the mass media promotes that we are "at war" and that there can be no other "conclusion" to this than killing the terrorists and whatever innocents may be in the line of fire, playing off the paranoia of 09.11, people won't have problems shunting untold sums of money into defense. And that will just help perpetuate Republican power, and the Republicans in turn will likely wait for more potential "enemies" to show up to justify continuing to spend our money on an industry that finances a good portion of their operations. Vicious circles 101.

At least I can comfort myself a bit by reminding myself a good deal of that is just speculation. What isn't speculation has been the religious right's reaction to all of this. I already quoted Jerry Falwell and Ann Coulter in the .blog so I'll just direct you over there if you didn't read their quotes, but they make me sick to my stomach. How dare they use a tragedy like this to advance their own bigoted agenda. Just speaking as a Pagan/Wiccan (although I certainly fall into many of the other "categories of blame" listed), my beliefs did not cause Osama bin Laden to do what he did. The depravity Osama bin Laden believes he is fighting does not come from Wicca, it comes from the fact that so much of America, thanks to media indoctrination and the narrow-minded people who have been elected to power, do nothing to try to see what Arabian countries are going through and the pain they are suffering, in great part thanks to the actions of our government.

Of course, if you have ever listened to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson, you would know they are two of the most intolerant assholes on the planet today. I have a great many Christian friends, and it sickens me how these so-called reverends twist Christian belief for their own interests, and neglect the tolerance inherent in Christian history for a kind of "superior religion" dogma that sickens me. I commented on Coulter's statement that "we should convert them to Christianity" that it sounded like we may have inquisitions again soon, and sadly that's just what Falwell and Robertson have been calling for, for so long. And given how America's been whipped into such a furor over what happened and aren't being given all the facts or encouraged to look at things from all sides, I can't discount the possibility of them having their way. From what Falwell and Robertson say about non-Christians it's clear they don't believe in "Love thy neighbour." To achieve their goals, it wouldn't surprise me if they overlook "Thou shalt not kill" as well.

Unfortunately, when it comes to bringing the perpetrators of 09.11's actions to justice, it doesn't sound like that many Americans will hold that statement to heart. I've spoken before about how America is the only major industrialized country, other than Japan, that still legalizes the death penalty, and thanks to that our populace has become acculturated to the concept of revenge and that killing for killing is okay. Americans are hurt and confused right now, and they want revenge because they don't know any better. And it looks like Dubya is all too happy to give the people what they want. This is such an opportunity for we as individuals, and as a country as a whole, to rise above mere violence, to try to come to a greater understanding on these issues, and were the right person in power perhaps that person could set the example for everyone else. But that's just not going to happen here, and that is everyone's loss.

I guess I've been doing some selfish thinking about things too, like how close the hotel I'm living in is to Toledo Express Airport, or how being in Toledo could be a real problem if someone wages chemical warfare against the United States through the water supply, being so close to Lake Erie and all. Even if I don't identify myself as a patriot, I am still an American, and no matter how much I try to understand everyone's side of things, I may not be immune to the next round of violence. And make no mistake, there will be another round of violence, and it will likely be bigger and quicker if our military springs into action than if we look for a peaceful solution. But in the grand scheme of all that's going on, my own petty concerns about these things seem small.

Nevertheless, life does goes on. I still have essays to write, tests to study for, work to do and most importantly of all family and friends to look out for. What happened 09.11 was horrible, but it doesn't cancel out anything else going on in our lives. Slowly we have to get back to the things we were doing before. Leno and Letterman are back on television telling their bad jokes, CNN is showing commercials, and we're all going to work and school and going back to the lie that we are rational people and the universe is a rational thing. We're all still concerned over what has happened, and what will happen as a result of 09.11, but we can't allow it to overrule our lives.

As I told C. in an e-mail, if we have learned anything from the events of 09.11, it is that we never know when we, or the people we love, may be taken from this planet, and so we need to cherish what we have and strive for what we want. Please, be sure to tell the people you love just how much you appreciate them, and don't allow yourself to get caught up in petty squabbles. Fight for what you desire, and fight strongly, but think about what you're doing and try not to hurt other people. And remember that we can never know what will happen in the future, so try not to worry about it, and try to live in the here and now.

I wish I had a solution to offer for the events of 09.11 that would satisfy everyone and that I could personally agree with, but I don't think there is one. Personally, I'd appreciate it if everyone flew the flag of a white dove on a sky-blue background to symbolize peace, instead of the American flag which could inspire the "us vs. them" delineation that will lead to more violence, and if you called in to every radio station and asked them to play "Give Peace a Chance." But do what you want, as long as you don't harm others. Maybe I can't get the United States as a whole to act that way, but maybe I can get just a few people to. Maybe this can be my contribution to the dialogue of the events of 09.11. Maybe putting all this up on the Internet for the world to see can help me feel better about what is to come in the time ahead.

Everybody take care and be well, and stay safe. And love. I'll see you all again soon.

- Sean