A few months short of 10 years ago, in my flat in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, I watched the events of 9/11 unfold on CNN and BBC.
I sat glued to the TV for days, mesmerized and horrified by what I saw on the screen: images of hundreds of family members searching for their loved ones amongst the dead, posting their pictures, hoping beyond hope that they would be found alive.
It was heartbreaking. While I could scarcely imagine their ordeal, my heart was filled with compassion for them, their country and their loss. It still is.
I remained in shock for months from simply watching the events play out in news reports, so I have no doubt that the trauma experienced by those directly impacted endures to this day. Many may never fully heal.
These are the tragic results of hatred and violence.
Yesterday, as reports came in about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, I experienced what was to me a fresh horror, a reverberation from the events of a decade ago: people celebrating death, destruction, killing and violence.
My first reaction was to tweet and post my thoughts on Amazing Women Rock’s Facebook page; I wrote:
I think it’s tragic that violence and killing in any form are celebrated. Revenge is as dark and evil as that which precipitates it.
The FB post generated more than 135 likes and 60 comments. Today I turned to my blog. To make a point in this post, I planned to show videos of the “dancing in streets” post-9/11 side by side with those taken of the celebrations in some US cities yesterday.
But I was surprised when a YouTube search for 9/11 celebrations turned up only one clip with a minute amount of footage of a handful of people apparently “rejoicing.” The same few images were “looped,” and used by a host of media. Here’s the clip:
The paucity of footage indicates to me that the so-called celebrations in the Arab world could hardly have been widespread, although they were made out to be by the media, and, as a consequence remain embedded in the American psyche to this day as an understandable, yet misguided example of what many believe to be Arab/Muslim evil. To wit, these two comments from the AWR Facebook page:
“I remember people over there dancing in the streets while our innocent victims were flying out of NYC skyscrapers :(“
“You don’t think they celebrate???!”
I responded thus:
?Yes, I remember. And I was equally disgusted then. As I said in a previous comment: The loss of life due to war and violence everywhere is tragic. Many justify violence in the name of protecting and defending, but violence only begets more violence.
Honestly, I think it’s desperately sad that people celebrate death and killing. I saw some people celebrate the events of 9/11. I was sickened then. I am sickened now.
Apologies for resorting to cliche, but “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Dancing in the street only serves to create more hatred and resentment now, just as it did post 9/11. And so the cycle of hatred and violence is fuelled in a never-ending spiral of tragedy in which even more lives are bound to be lost…
During my search for “celebratory” 9/11 news, I also stumbled across these two segments from then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and Hanan Ashrawi, a Christian Palestinian human rights activist:
I was never a big fan of Arafat, but I think his sincerity is unmistakable in these remarks, and, having visited Palestine for the first time in the last several weeks, I have personally experienced the victimization to which Ashrawi refers.
But who remembers the words of Arafat and Ashrawi and the millions of other Muslims worldwide who were also deeply saddened by the events of 9/11? Why don’t we remember? I would suggest it’s because they didn’t get the same airplay as the one looped clip that fit the narrative of the time, that of an “evil Middle East” bent on the desctruction of the West.
Now the world is being bombarded by the predictable American media frenzy following Bin Laden’s killing. Everything from the minutiae involved in the operation itself, to public displays of hysterically chanting crowds in some kind of perverse euphoria is sucked up mindlessly by a vengeful viewership.
They say it’s all in the name of God and justice. How ironic. Al Qaida claims the same rationale for its barbaric acts. (It seems God is on everyone’s side in this war of idealogies where one nation’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.)
One of my Twitter tribe expressed exactly what I feel about the jubilant reaction of the past two days, she said:
“Nationalist fervor and celebrations of death, no matter where, when and about whom, deeply disturb me.”
I too am deeply disturbed. I am as disturbed by what I have seen today and yesterday in the American media as I was disturbed by the events of 9/11, and some of the reactions to it in the Middle East where I reside. The responses have the same roots: fear, hatred and misunderstanding.
I was sickened by the events of 9/11, and the consequent loss of life. I am equally sickened by the ongoing losses that occur around the world every day.Never mind that killing 10,000 Bin Ladens won’t bring back the 3,000+ that died in the World Trade Center attacks. Peace has no chance if the human race keeps behaving this way.
In no way am I suggesting that Bin Laden be mourned, but I do think it’s tragic that his death is being celebrated. Such jubilation is inflammatory and bound to lead to more hatred, and if we don’t stop the spread of hatred, his killing will be a hollow victory indeed.
One thing that brings me hope is my belief that, just like the skewed media coverage of Arab/Muslim reaction in the aftermath of 9/11, what we see now does not reflect the thoughts and feelings of the majority of Americans. I think many are conflicted about these events, and many would choose to respond in ways other than what we have seen in the mainstream media.
One example is an open and honest piece by Lissa Rankin, creator of Owning Pink (gotta’ love her site for the name alone!). Rankin writes in her blog post entitled “Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead:”
“Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not the least bit sorry that rat bastard is dead. At least this way he won’t be able to mastermind another mass murder. And yes, I know the families of the victims of 9/11 will finally get some closure. And I’m glad for that. I hope they heal.
But really. Must we be so HATEFUL? Where’s the love, people? What good does it do us to start spewing venom around the world? The way I see it, more hate and celebration will only incite more violence and fear. Pray for world peace and live in love.
Like Rankin, I feel enormous compassion for all those who lost loved ones during the events of 9/11, as well as those who continue to lose loved ones around the world to wars and violent acts of all kinds. Nothing can really compensate for the loss of those we love. Nothing can replace them.
In times such as these, I think people of faith, no matter what faith it is, may draw inspiration from the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who wisely said:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Now that Osama Bin Laden is dead and gone, I hope we don’t allow his capacity to incite violence and hatred to reach out from beyond the grave in a terrifying legacy of evil and madness.
As Rankin wisely suggests in her blog: Let’s choose love and compassion instead.
Image from: Straight Gangsterism