Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Church of 9/11

One of the Reflected Absence pools at the September 11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan, photo via Concrete Decor.

The inestimable Talia Lavin asking a big question:

Which apparently drew a lot of fire from people who thought she was mounting an attack on Republicans:

Though come to think of it there is something Republican about the incident that blew the thought into our minds this week, a sentence from remarks made three weeks ago at a banquet of the civil rights advocacy Council on American-Islamic Relations by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, which were broadcast live at the time by outlets including Fox News
“CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
but not a subject of universal horror, as Greg Sargent points out, until this Tuesday, when it was picked out by Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, getting it from the Australian media imam Mohammad Tawhidi (who seems to have no congregation and no formal qualifications from his studies in Iran but a very lively Twitter account and who has articulated some views that are regarded as alarming and divisive in the Australian Muslim community, Sunni and Shi'a alike):

Like that description of CAIR as a "terrorist organization" (CAIR was listed in 2014 as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates along with 82 other organizations, many but far from all of which are really pretty terroristic, and by National Review; but the rest of the world has not followed, except for Senator Cruz, who has been working to criminalize membership in CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood because of his deep respect for the Constitution).

Crenshaw, who retweeted Tawhidi's tweet with his own comment, is something like Trumpism's current representative in the Legion of Decency, an old Navy Seal who lost an eye in Helmand and who magnanimously forgave Saturday Night Live for making fun of the patch he wears over the spot—that and anti-Trump Facebook remarks in 2015
In a 2015 post that has drawn the most scrutiny from [Republican primary rival and early Trump backer Kevin] Roberts and his allies, Crenshaw writes that Trump's "insane rhetoric" toward Muslims "is hateful" and takes away from conversations around "the reform of Islam." He also calls Trump an idiot while writing of "equally ignorant liberals" on the other side of the debate.
may be what won him the election, as the "civility" candidate. Note the lovely bothsiderism with relation to Islam: Trump is wrong to condemn the religion, with his "insane rhetoric", and "liberals" are "equally ignorant" when they fail to condemn it; the right approach is to condemn it halfheartedly—it would be an OK religion if it would "reform".

Crenshaw's complaint on Omar, that she didn't "describe" the 9/11 attacks in appropriate words, seems ill-founded to begin with in that she didn't describe them at all: "some people who did something" is the opposite of a description, unless there's a chance that they weren't people or it wasn't a thing. She was alluding to the attacks, very delicately, in discussing something else, the origin of CAIR, or rather (since she's wrong about the origin, it was founded in 1994) its heightened vigilance after 9/11 in regard to problems stemming from the attacks, hate crimes and police abuse and so on. And as far as I can understand she was using this vague language in the way we often try not to name the shooter in one of those AR-15 mass murders, so as not to give them the dignity of being remembered. She is effectively denying that they were members of the community (they weren't, they were foreigners, mostly Saudi nationals, and Muslims of an unpleasant theological flavor that has few adherents in the US, and outlaws in any case) and denying that their action was impressive—big, perhaps, but not grand, just some contemptible thing.

Crenshaw, in contrast, names them ("terrorists"), names the crime (''killed"), names and enumerates their victims ("Americans", "thousands"), and memorializes the calendar date, and we can assume that this is what he thinks she ought to have done. That's an example of why you might call 9/11 sacred, in the sense of being hedged by a verbal tabu system of rules on how you talk about it publicly (rules for politicians, and journalists I suppose).

It is also the object of important public ritual observances, of course, the annual ritual of naming and enumerating the victims on the sites of their martyrdom in New York and Washington and Shanksville, and of monumental memorials constructed with an eye to symbolism in the 1776-foot Freedom Tower and the vast plaza around the footprints of the destroyed towers, each filled with a water-curtained pool "Reflecting Absence" representing the fact that the towers aren't there in a space that is itself haram or forbidden (I suppose the cleaners go in when the public's not there). Which is not exactly unlike what you'd expect at the site of a national tragedy, the monumentality and quiet and symbolic intention, except for the symbolism being so intense and specific and pointing so specifically at what you're supposed to think about, the terrorism, the names and numbers, and the Freedom, like the index of a kind of national doxography (just learned that word a couple of days ago) placing a careful limit on the kind of thoughts you should have. That's how we know 9/11 is literally sacred in a style of American political thinking, not so much because somebody's trying to tell us what to think about it, which is pretty normal, but because they're telling us not to think too much.

By which I don't mean speculating about who did it (trutherism is as far as I'm concerned inside the religion) and that kind of stuff; I mean thinking about how significant it is. Questioning its status as the foundational moment of our 21st century of America suffering, America militant, and America triumphant, which is what you might say Ilhan Omar, telling her CAIR audience that those hijackers don't deserve too much thought from the ummah, was doing, at least from the standpoint of an innocent like Crenshaw. He thought she'd been caught doubting the faith, and Pelosi later thought she'd caught Trump abusing it (and she wasn't wrong, even if you're skeptical about the faith itself).

Cynically you could say, as Steve sort of does, that 9/11 was made sacred, sacralized, by Republicans:
During the George W. Bush years, I regularly said that conservatives loved 9/11 -- that it was the best day of their lives, because it gave them (or so it seemed at the time) a permanent right to claim the moral high ground. They wanted war and more war. They loved regime change. They delighted in patriotic symbols and angry or sentimental patriotic music. Only one Republican has won the popular vote in a presidential election since 1988, and 9/11 was the reason. For Republicans, 9/11 was the gift that kept on giving (until the 2006 midterms, when it stopped giving). 
And I wouldn't disagree; indeed I might go further and add that there's an element of coverup, in dismissing the Republican responsibility for the strike, Bush's and his people's disregarding the warnings, and the perversion of the cult to justify the Iraq War.

All I'm saying is the date has, at least for the time being, acquired the soft patina of something like that, to the extent where it's not quite safe for anybody, even gutsy Talia Lavin, to speak about it honestly, and that is perhaps what "sacred" means.

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