SEPTEMBER 11th AND AFTER:
GETTING OUTSIDE OURSELVES

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SPECIAL NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This issue of the JME was put together before the bombing of Afghanistan began at midday on Sunday, October 7th. All the pleas here for caution and restraint seem more important now, not less.

In This Issue:

 

  • David’s Notes:
  • Reports from Dublin, Ireland, and Geneva, Switzerland
  • We Are Not the Only People on the Earth by Steve Nelson
  • Reports from Bern, Switzerland, and Washington, DC
  • Our Hubris Overflows by Donald M. Reid
  • Reports from San Francisco, California, and Burlington, Vermont
  • Suggestions for Further Reading
  • An End to the Age of Impunity by David Budbill

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DAVID’S NOTES:

One correspondent to THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE tells this story:

“I met a person who said to me on the day of the bombing, ‘My God, this is probably the worst thing to happen to civilians in history. I just can’t think of anything this terrible happening in the past.’ I calmly reminded her of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Holocaust. ‘Oh of course,’ she continued, ‘I meant in the United States.’ As a country we are so self-involved. It is always about us.”

This issue of THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE is dedicated to trying to see the tragedy of September 11th from outside “us” and to thinking about how we might avoid the mistakes that violent and massive retaliation will surely involve.

Again and again in the essays and responses here, people call for restraint, caution, reason, calm, meekness, humility. These, I think, are not just ideas growing out of a religious and moral sense, although they are that. They are ideas that grow out of an ever growing sense that such an approach is practical, it is, given the circumstances, just good old All American pragmatism. As someone said to me at an art opening a few nights ago, “It’s the only thing left that will work.” If we respond to this attack in our usual way with all our technology and firepower, everyone seems to be saying, WE WILL SURELY FAIL just as we failed in Vietnam and Baghdad, to cite just two examples.

These calls for restraint, caution, reason, calm, meekness and humility have been made all the more necessary by our teenage, cowboy President and his use of language: “smoke ‘em out of their holes”–“wanted dead or alive.”

And speaking of the use of language, the government could use a few more poets in their employ. Whoever the slogan maker is who changed the name from Infinite Justice to Enduring Freedom obviously didn’t know anything about the other meaning of the word endure, and I fear that is just what the rest of the world will have to do now even more than they’ve had to do it in the past–ENDURE America’s notion of freedom.

We don’t plan to reproduce here the articles and letters that have been circulating widely on the internet. Instead, we will append toward the end of this JME a list of recommended reading and how you can get to it.

We would however like to strongly and especially recommend one particular article which we feel lays the situation open like none other. It is Arundhati Roy’s “The Algebra of Infinite Justice” which appeared on 29 September in THE MANCHESTER GUARDIAN, Manchester, England. Here is the link to the article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4266289,00.htm

What we propose to do here with JME #23 is offer comments from people you almost certainly have not heard from, plus a couple of essays, one from a newspaper not widely circulated, the other from a middle eastern scholar. We also have reports, exclusive to the JME, from correspondents in Dublin, Ireland, Geneva and Bern, Switzerland, and from places around the United States. My own essay AN END TO THE AGE OF IMPUNITY, which I wrote two days after the bombing, brings up the rear.

Finally, a heart felt plea to put away the American flags, that symbol of our nationalism, and raise instead the flag of suffering humanity. Let us attend to the pain and grief of suffering humanity–no matter where it presents itself to us, whether it is the stock broker who died in the rubble of the WTC or the janitor in the stock broker’s office, or the fireman who died trying to save them both, or the suffering and starving people of Afghanistan now fleeing in panic and fear.

No amount of revenge and retribution can do anything to assuage anybody’s pain. Revenge and retribution make only more suffering. Buddha was right. “Life is suffering.” And only our compassion, our boundless compassion, can begin to ease the pain.

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from Dublin, Ireland
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?

On the “Day of Remembrance”, Ireland shut down for the day: shops were closed, offices were closed. Pubs were closed! The crowds at the American Embassy were so intense that people stood for hours to sign the condolence book. When my bus passed the Embassy a week after the bombing, the sidewalk for a block in each direction was still covered with notes and bouquets of flowers. The sense of solidarity and shared grief here is extremely moving.

How long will it take for W. to dissipate this and fill the sidewalks outside the Embassy with protesters instead?

David French

 

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from Geneva, Switzerland
THEY THINK THEMSELVES KING OF THE WORLD

We heard of it in the afternoon, and immediately saw the frightening pictures… Nobody could believe what they saw and listened to. (many people said afterwards that they thought of a movie, expecting the hero to come and save the poor guys on the 90th floor…) It took a long time to sort of realize what was happening and start considering the consequences. I personally stood on the phone with my best friends for hours, and went to bed pretty late. Nothing had the same meaning or importance. I started to think of the people I know around New York. We were watching the confusion and all those who were stuck in airports, stations. However, towards the US, the rumor quickly rose: “They have what they deserve. They think themselves the king of the world, they show their pride and patriotism, play with their wealth and power; too bad it’s innocents who are paying for them, but…”

Rosalie Kung

rosykung@hotmail.com

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WE ARE NOT THE ONLY PEOPLE ON THE EARTH

 

A wounded New York City is swathed in red, white and blue. A neighbor cried as he described the corridor of flags through which his fire-fighter friend traveled to interment. Many cars display Old Glory from windows or antennas, most apartment buildings and stores fly the flag, and delivery boys on fat-tired bicycles wear Stars and Stripes headbands. The President has declared war and the nation has risen behind him with a tearful chorus of God Bless America. “We are the greatest people on Earth” proclaimed a handout from a local church.

 

From the emotional rubble of the World Trade Center attack a Phoenix of national pride has risen. I drove back to New York from Vermont last Sunday evening and, with very mixed emotions, discovered an American flag hanging from the awning of my apartment building. For many the flag display is a statement of consolation, sorrow, unity in a time of crisis, and profound admiration for the courage of firefighters and volunteers. I feel each of those. But flags are also hung in anger, serving as fierce demands for revenge and frightening signs that American righteousness will further fracture the world community.

 

In Strafford, VT a junk car carries the message “Nuke ‘em, Geo.” In Cleveland, Ohio a man drove his Ford Mustang through the doors of an Islamic Center. In Arizona and Texas dark-skinned men in turbans were murdered. In six other states mosques have been attacked. Around the country Arab Americans have been taunted, attacked and humiliated. We have enthusiastically given the president a free hand to hunt down the terrorists and severely punish those who are even distantly complicit. He uses the language of war to inflame public sentiment and invokes the spirit of Wild West vigilante justice by saying he wants Osama bin Laden “Dead or Alive.” The president and his advisors now claim to be absolutely certain about the identity and guilt of the terrorists, exuding an odd confidence from a government that had nary a whiff of an attack that was years in the making.

 

Our national pride is boundless and respects no boundaries. Even our tragedies must be the biggest and the best. Just weeks ago most Americans were comfortable in the myth that we were the leaders of a world at peace. We were entertained nightly by yet another riveting tale of a politician and an intern or reality shows contrived to provide a little zest to go with our consumption. The rest of the world saw war in Macedonia, fighting in Zimbabwe, and Protestant missile attacks on Catholic schoolgirls in Northern Ireland. Several weeks ago a Palestinian suicide bomber left his decapitated body in the street as his head flew into a Jerusalem playground for Jewish schoolchildren to discover.

 

Larry King never talks to the victims of ongoing bombings in Iraq. When a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan was mistakenly bombed in 1998, Fox Television did not carry human-interest stories about the diseases that filled the howling hole in vaccination supplies. When NATO bombed civilian targets in Kosovo, including hospitals, CNN did not cover the volunteers who brought pie to those courageous rescue workers. Until Tuesday, the disinfected products of global violence were packaged in neat 30-second segments on the evening news. Now America has been bloodied and our appetite for grief and outrage is insatiable.

 

For now we are awash in sympathy and support from most of the world community. For now they mourn our thousands of missing and dead. But they will eventually ask why we don’t grieve the 500,000 Iraqi children whose lives have been destroyed in part because of our policies, including the intentional destruction of their supply of safe water. The Arab nations that console us today will soon again wonder why we did not similarly cherish the 17,500 civilians who died in the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Too many Muslims will remember family members killed, burned, and maimed by American-made weapons.

 

We were conspicuous in our absence from the recent World Conference Against Racism, where thousands of delegates struggled mightily to reach out across centuries of hostility, and wide gaps in language, religious belief, and culture. We have abandoned international treaties because they don’t serve our selfish security interests and we have ignored the world consensus on environmental issues because it doesn’t serve our economy. Congress immediately appropriated $40 billion for vengeance but will not release $2.3 billion in back dues to the United Nations. Our priorities are clear to everyone but us.

 

Nothing justifies the unspeakable acts of September 11. In my neighborhood the local fire department lost seven men. My stomach still aches every day when I look toward downtown with fresh horror at what has been done to my city, to my country. The terrorists are not cowards – they are worse. They are vicious, dogma-addled fanatics who are a threat to the world. Like every civilized person on Earth, I hope the terrorists are brought to justice – civilized justice.

 

But I also wish that for every dollar appropriated to bring terrorists to justice we would appropriate a dollar for peace. I wish that for every incursion into the Middle East seeking revenge that we would send a mission into the Middle East to alleviate suffering. I wish that for every gesture of support from Arab nations during this crisis we will lift a sanction, offer economic and humanitarian aid, and establish comprehensive cultural and educational exchanges. I wish that for every American flag raised in sorrow or anger there will be a peace flag flown in hope. We are not “the greatest people on Earth.” We are not the only people on Earth.

 

Every now and then last week the wind came from lower Manhattan and buffeted the flag on my building with hints of acrid smoke from the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center. We must be restrained. There has been death enough.

 

Steve Nelson

Steve.Nelson@calhoun.org

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Steve Nelson lives in Vermont and New York City. This article first appeared in THE VALLEY NEWS, Lebanon, New Hampshire.

 

 

 

* * * * *from Bern, Switzerland
THE STATUE OF NEBUCHADNEZAR
 

Do you know what came to me when I saw the towers of the WTC collapse? A picture from the old Bible: the collapse of the statue of Nebuchadnezar. There it states (Daniel 2:35): “the whole tower of gold and silver and iron and brick collapsed and became dust!” Bigshot’s dreams become dust. We in Europe too are guilty — we have no excuse. The speech of President Bush also makes us anxious. Our only hope is that it’s just words, and that ruinous acts don’t arise from them.

 

Theo Bruggemann

 

theobrueggemann@bluewin.ch

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from Washington, DC, to Brooklyn:
A GRANDMOTHER’S CALL

I finally got in touch with Sarah this morning – – just doing the same thing as always, hitting the redial button, trying not to listen to the mechanical lady intoning “I’m sorry…” — and the phone rang, then rang again, then again — and the answering machine came on. I just kept talking and talking until Sarah woke up and picked up — we then stayed on the line for over an hour, each of us reluctant to hang up, since we knew we might not talk again for an indefinite length of time.

They are as well as can be expected. On Tuesday, Sarah took Lucas and Eliot to the park; all the adults there were listening to Walkmen with stricken expressions on their faces, while the kids played gaily in the smokey air.

The brother of a friend of theirs is a firefighter — he’s ok, but has been pulling 12 hour shifts, and when he comes home he just sits in a chair and holds the new baby, and watches the television scenes of the places he has just been and to which he will have to return in a matter of hours.

I saw Brooklyn’s Seventh Avenue on the news last night in connection with the loss of most of the Park Slope Fire Company. It was eerie to see the familiar neighborhood, looking normal, as they panned the streets and settled on the boy scout troop who had had a close relationship with the fire company. And I remember the guys, always there, doors open, next to the Coop, talking to Lucas and letting him see the engines. Sarah isn’t taking him to the Coop for a while, since flowers and teddy bears and notes are banked against the closed door. When Andrew told Lucas about the “accident” he said the police and the firefighters were working hard to make things as safe as they could be. Now the firefighters are gone. Hard to know what to tell a little boy to be as reassuring as you can without lying to him about his putative safety.

Katherine J. Williams

katherine.j.williams@gte.net


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from Atlanta, Georgia
OUR HUBRIS OVERFLOWS

As a professor who has studied and taught about the Middle East for more than thirty years, I fear that in response to the catastrophe of September 11 we are about to strike out in blind anger and self-righteousness. If we allow ourselves to be provoked into military action in Afghanistan that leads to the death and dispossession of large numbers of civilians, we will be playing straight into the hands of those who planned and carried out the terrible crime of Sept. 11. Already before our military strikes, tens of thousands–perhaps hundreds of thousands–of refugees in that war-torn land are fleeing their homes in panic. We do not hear their cries, but we can be sure that children there are already dying because of our actions.

As we mourn our tragedy of September 11, the appropriate response is not war, the rhetoric of which our politicians and the mainstream media have so assiduously stoked. Instead we should relentlessly pursue the organizations and surviving individuals who plotted this deed. This is a crime against humanity, and they must be brought to justice for it before U.S or international courts.

Our outrage at this atrocity should not blind us to long-standing injustices of U.S. policies in the Middle East, which fuel the hatred and despair from which this deed sprang. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism–like all religions–have their unreachable extremists, but attention to justified grievances produced by our Middle East policies would go a long way toward draining the growing pool of those willing to perpetrate or cheer such deeds.

We should continue to support vigorously the human and national rights of Israelis to live in peace and security within their country’s pre-1967 borders. We have failed, however, to take equally seriously the identical human and national rights of the Palestinians to live in peace and security in a state of their own. Massive, uncritical US support for Israel has encouraged the rise to power there of right-wing extremists who endlessly push settlements in illegally occupied territories, denying the basic rights of Palestinians and labeling a whole people “terrorists.” Israelis and Palestinians both live in fear today, but one must not lose sight of the fact that one is the occupier with (U.S-supplied) tanks and planes and the other the occupied, lightly-armed but for the courage of despair.

Iraq suffers under the double tragedy of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the effects of the U.S.-dominated embargo and bombings. Since the end of the Gulf War, well over half a million civilians, most of them children, have died from disease and malnutrition as a result of the embargo. We blame Saddam Hussein and wash our hands of the matter, our mainstream press hardly covering the on-going tragedy. But the moral responsibility is ours as well.

The original name for the Bush administration’s newly-declared “war on terrorism” was “Operation Infinite Justice.” Our hubris overflows. Surely we should have not had to let our Muslim friends and allies remind us that infinity is a human longing, not a human attribute, and that in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism infinite justice comes from God alone.

Donald M. Reid

dreid@gsu.edu

EDITOR’S NOTE: Donald M. Reid is a professor of Middle Eastern History at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Forty years ago, Don and The Editor of THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE were the creators and editors of an underground literary and political magazine called THE ANGRY I. top

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from Burlintgon, Vermont
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK

Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

More and more I see that a violent response to this is not the answer. I was fantasizing about what would/could happen if President Bush apologized to the Middle Eastern people who feel that we violated their holy ground ten years ago. That’s supposedly what a lot of this is about. It may not help, but it would definitely be an unexpected and HUMBLE response. Humility looks meek, but as you know, it is a powerful weapon against anger.

P. Wood

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from San Francisco, California
EXASPERATED

I am exasperated by the American belief that every adversity can be conquered by mounting a horse and going out to kick some butt, followed by riding happily off into the sunset. This approach has had disastrous results in the “war on drugs” and is liable to have equally disastrous results in a “war on terrorism.” If we are unwilling to address the more sophisticated and complex issues that lead to the problem in the first place, we’ll just continue to beat helplessly at the air.

Linda Young

linda_k_young@onebox.com


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SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since September 11th we have received or sent more than 1100 emails, we’ve read hundreds of letters, essays and commentaries. There is an endless amount of reading material out there on the web. What follows here is a tiny selection of the things we’ve read that we recommend.

 

** For insight into what it is like to live with terrorism every day read the diaries of a Palestinian woman named Reema and her 18 year old sister, Fida. To get these diaries contact Jules Rabin at: jhrabin@sover.net

 

** An excellent article published on 13 September in THE MANCHESTER GUARDIAN, is Seumas Milne’s, “They Can’t See Why They are Hated” by Seumas Milne. Double click on: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4255855,00.html

 

** Another excellent and extended article in THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR for 27 September by Peter Ford is called WHY DO THEY HATE US? It’s available at: http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/0927/p1s1-wogi.html

 

** To read Sharif Abdullah’s moving essay OUR WAR WITH “THE OTHER,” contact Anna Nuse at: anuse@hotmail.com

 

** Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian American writer from New York City and the author of BORN PALESTINIAN, BORN BLACK, and other books. To read her poem, “First Writing Since” contact Anna Nuse at: anuse@hotmail.com

 

** To read W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939″ go to: http://www.gametec.com/poemdujour/Sept1.1939.html

 

** For a campy presentation of the widely circulated essay “Bomb them with Butter, Bribe them with Hope” go to:http://www.geocities.com/sanfrancisco_mermaid/NO_WAR/BOMB-THEM-WITH-BUTTER.HTML

 

** For the nadir of hate journalism go to the back page editorial in TIME MAGAZINE, for 11 September 2001, the one with the exploding WTC towers on the cover, and read “The Case for Rage and Retribution” by Lance Morrow.

 

** Eve Ensler is the author of “The Vagina Monologues”. To read her essay, I HAVE BEEN THINKING, go to: http://www.vday.org/ie/index.cfm?articleID=544

 


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from Wolcott, Vermont
AN END TO THE AGE OF IMPUNITY

 

The most striking image for me in all the hours of television I watched on September 11th was the picture of a man and a woman, both African Americans, both dressed in business suits, both completely covered in gray ash, both fleeing hand in hand, their mouths open in gasping Os. Their ashen faces and bodies, their postures of woundedness, grief and confusion made me think of images I’ve seen of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the moments and days after we dropped atomic bombs on those cities.

 

A lot of people have been saying the American age of innocence is over. To cite just one example, shortly after 1:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, September 16th, Mara Liasson on National Public Radio said, “A certain amount of our innocence is gone.” She gave voice to a common misunderstanding. We as a nation have never been innocent. What is over is not our innocence. What is over is the American age of impunity. Now the jealousy, hatred, envy and resentment that we have generated for ourselves around the world comes home to visit us, now we get to suffer as the rest of the world has suffered.

 

Seeing those two people staggering through the rubble of the World Trade Center and thinking about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, made me think about the saturation bombing and the napalm we loosed on Vietnam and that made me think about the TV pictures of our relentless bombing of Baghdad, you remember those squeaky clean images of our “smart” bombs falling all over Baghdad, you remember how we sat at home and watched on our TVs as Generals Powell and Schwartzkoff explained to us the technical details of our devastation of Iraq.

 

What unites all of these images of human suffering, these acts of carnage and devastation, from Nagasaki to Baghdad, until September 11th, is how all of them were so far away, just pictures to us, just TV images to be analyzed and watched with a cool and pristine fascination.

 

Not anymore.

 

My daughter stood on the Brooklyn shore of the East River and watched tens of thousands of ash covered New Yorkers stream across the Brooklyn Bridge as if they were refugees, this timeless image from Germany, Japan, Vietnam, China, Iraq, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, this image of dazed and confused refugees fleeing–this image come home now to New York.

 

No amount of macho, saber-rattling, bravado out of the mouths of politicians and generals can save us from the images of September 11th. Now we know what it’s like to have done to us what we do to others.

 

Let us pause a moment.

 

Let us ponder what unleashing yet another wave of violence will do to create yet another generation of people who hate us and vow revenge upon us.

 

Let us ponder what unleashing yet another wave of violence will do to continue this international curse of war on civilians.

 

Let us act now to stop the carnage rather than perpetuate it.

 

David Budbill

 


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COMING SOON: in the JME #24: September 11th and After and Issues of Race in America
Updated: 10/2/2011

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