911—-Plus Five

I’m writing these words on September 12, 2006— the fifth
anniversary of the spectacular hijacking of the monstrous crimes of
September 11. That’s right, the hijacking of the hijackings, carried
out in plain sight by a different band of right-wing zealots just as
determined to impose their arid ideology on America and the world as
the thugs of 9-11. It’s a hijacking still underway, a work-in-progress
whose disastrous consequences are only partly apparent. But let’s
start at the beginning, and remember how we got into this fine mess.

The attacks of September 11 were— no doubt about it— pure
terrorism, indiscriminate slaughter, crimes against humanity carried
out by reactionary fanatics with fundamentalist fantasies dancing
wildly in their heads. And in the immediate aftermath Americans
experienced, of course, grief, confusion, compassion, solidarity, as
well as something else: uncharacteristic soul-searching, questioning,
and political openness, but not for long.

A headline in the Onion got it only partly right: “Unsure What to
Do, Entire Country Stares Dumbly at Hands.” Actually Cheney, Rumsfeld,
Ashcroft, and their gang knew exactly what to do, and they did it—
they pulled out their most ambitious plans to create a new American
empire, to remake the world to their liking, to suppress dissent, to
bail out the airlines by transferring $20 billion without safeguards
or benchmarks from public to private hands in a matter of days with a
single no-vote in the Senate, to scuttle aspects of the law that
checked their power, to deliver the country, in the words of Arthur
Miller, “into the hands of the radical right, a ministry of free
floating apprehension toward anything that never happens in the middle
of Missouri.” The ideologues filled up all the available space with
their fantastic interpretation of events, and they shouted down anyone
with the temerity to disagree, donning the mantle of patriotism to
defend their every move.

The “Boondocks” and Bill Maher came under steady attack, Susan
Sontag and Edward Said were told to shut up, give up their jobs, and
by implication to retreat to their caves with their terrorist
soul-mates. When mild-mannered, slightly right wing Stanley Fish
suggested that all the mantras of the day— we have seen the face of
evil, the clash of civilizations, we’re at war with international
terrorism— are inaccurate and unhelpful, failing for a lack of any
available mechanism for settling deep-seated disputes, he was targeted
as a destructive leech on the American way of life. Asked to apologize
for his post-modern devil work of forty years, he cracked wise,
telling me he could picture the headline: “Fish ironically announces
the death of post-modernism, millions cheer.”

The president said repeatedly that America was misunderstood in the
world, and that what we have here is mainly a failure to communicate.
He sounded like the sadistic warden of the prison plantation in “Cool
Hand Luke,” whose signature phrase is the focus of ridicule and
reversal. What’s clear in both cases is that a failure to communicate
is the very least of it.
The press rolled over, gave up any pretense of skepticism, and
became the idiot-chorus for the powerful. When the president looked
soulfully out from our TVs and implored every American child to send a
dollar for Afghan kids, no one asked how much money would be required
to feed those kids, or how the food was going to get there and by-pass
their parents. Starvation ahead. The so-called war on terror was
simply accepted on all sides, no one qualifying with the necessary,
“so-called.” No one asked whether a crime didn’t require a criminal
justice response and solution—perhaps a massive response, but within
the field of criminal justice nonetheless. No one in power asked what
the field of this war would be, or how we would know if we’d won. No
one demanded evidence or proof.

And here we are: international law shredded, torture defended,
citizens rounded up and held without honoring their Constitutional
rights, nationalism promoted relentlessly, disdain for human rights on
the rise, militarism ascendant in all aspects of the culture, the mass
media flat on its back, people nodding dully as we accede to an orange
alert and march in orderly lines through security checkpoints and
random searches, organized vote suppression and rampant fraud at the
polls, mass incarceration of Black men, war without end, and on and
on.

Five years after, we might stir ourselves to impeach the criminal
heading up this cabal, we might prepare for the criminal trials these
domestic hijackers deserve, and, at the very least, we might tell the
truth in the public square and thereby contribute to building a mass
movement for peace and justice.

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