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WorldVoices: 9/11, A Decade Later

By Taylor Hom

Yesterday marked the 10-year anniversary of the September 11th  terrorist attacks that shocked the world, devastated a nation, and silenced one of the loudest cities on earth.

Media outlets around the world reported on the thousands of people that gathered at ground zero in downtown Manhattan, the Pentagon in D.C., and the commemorative field in Pennsylvania. In many ways, the day symbolized America’s fighting sense of resilience, a nation’s ability to move on—to both remember and to forget.

Ten years later, New York is again a bustling metropolis; Osama Bin Laden is dead, and al-Qaida is weak.

On this anniversary, the world reflects on the day that signifies the beginning of a new era. Many global news sources emphasized citizens standing in solemn remembrance, showing waving American flags or President Bush and President Obama side by side in non-partisan unity.

The varied responses from across the globe show how this tragic day is not a simple moment in history. The event does not stand isolated in time, independent of cause and effect. The attacks of September 11th are both a cause and an effect; the beginning, middle, and end of a complicated and shambled narrative of imperialism, terrorism, and war.

In the Jerusalem Post article “September 11th, remembering and forgetting,” Jordana Horn explores a different perspective when reporting on the meaning of that Tuesday morning. Instead of focusing on September 11th, Horn juxtaposes the dark and devastating day with the innocence of September 10th 2001;

But the thing that was truly lost on September 11, that no memorial will ever commemorate and that nothing will ever bring back, is the rainy New York day of September 10, 2001. On that prosaic day, we yelled at our dry cleaners for losing our shirts, and went to work pissed off. We ordered Chinese takeout and tipped the delivery guy extra for having biked through the dark, wet night. We ran out of shampoo, and wrote it down on a shopping list for the next day.

On September 10, 2001, our “problems” were amazingly, beautifully small and mundane. Because on that day, there was nothing to remember, and we had no idea how grateful we should have been.

Horn reminds her reader of a time buried deep in the past, a time of untouched naivete and blissful oblivion.

In the article “US will never be at war with Islam: Obama,” The Times of India draws attention to the evolving and complicated US relations with the Muslim world. The article highlights Obama’s testament to America’s unconditional freedom.

As the US commemorated a decade since the terror attack that turned into rubble the once iconic twin towers of New York, Obama said America was still a place where people of all ethnicity and religions were welcome to chase the same dream. Obama said the country was today more vigilant than ever against threats and the common defence has brought some inconveniences but the last 10 years have also shown that Americans hold fast to their freedoms.

The Times of India is hinting towards another more nuanced and less noble aspect of the 2001 terrorist attacks: The link between 9/11 and America’s riddled, tumultuous, and questionably moral relations with the Muslim world.

Richard Falk delves more deeply into this link and warns against viewing 9/11 from the sole perspective of the nation-state in his Al Jazeera article, “9/11 did not start of end at midnight.

Because American responses to such transformative events are likely to be global in their effect, there is a greater tendency to share American preoccupations, but this is misleading because interpretations diverge depending on place and time. This diversity amid universality is probably truer for 9/11 than any other recent transformative event, not because of the drama of the attacks, but as a result of the connections with surges of violence unleashed both prior to the attacks and in their aftermath… These grievances were associated with Western appropriations of the region's resources, Western support lent to cruel and oppressive tyrants throughout the Middle East, lethal and indiscriminate sanctions imposed for an entire decade on the people of Iraq after the first Gulf War, deployment of massive numbers of American troops close to Muslim sacred sites in Saudi Arabia, and America's role in Israel's oppressive dispossession of Palestinians and subsequent occupation.

Falk’s statement lends itself to the notion that 9/11 is a nuanced event, a prominent moment in a long and disturbing narrative that has not only devastated America but the entire Muslim world. 9/11 is certainly not a “coherent global historical event,” but rather a story that involves varying opinions, beliefs, and accusations with only subjective villains and few clear protagonists.

Taking an artistic stand in Le Monde, Hélène Sallon reports from the "Islam and the city" festival in Paris, where she meets several Muslim artists and asks about the impact of 9/11 on their work. Some, like Majida, have needed ten years to turn the topic into art. Others reacted much faster, finding a way to challenge representations of Muslims and Islam shortly after the tragedy. Ten years on, much of the art of French-speaking Muslims is still a response to the stereotyping of Muslims in much of the Western media.

Many artists haven't waited until now to cover the topic. In the first years following 9/11, the event took a major place in the artistic field, leading to an intense production. "Reactions have been as strong since these events have been the emblem of all the underlying Western fears toward Islam" Veronique Rieffel, director of the Institut des Cultures d'islam in Paris, says. "There has been a willingness, through art, to exorcize something. After 9/11, we wanted to see all these repeated images of collapsing towers. As if we were looking for a sort of catharsis."

Among Muslim artists, reactions have been quite diverse. "Some of them did not want to be part of this debate. Others, through what I'll call "internalized orientalism", jumped on the occasion. Some say that they didn't work on the topic, but there was for them some sort of assignment to take an interested in it. They are Muslims so they know the topic better than anyone else. They can throw light on it for us," Veronique Rieffel says. "Many artists have then found themselves as 'Muslim artists' after September 11."

This image, reflected by the others' gaze, nurtured Muslim artists' creation. Many of them have questioned the representation of Islam and Muslims rather than their own identity. "I did know my identity and my connection to Islam. 9/11 touched me as there have been victims, but I know that Islam remains the same. That my identity remains the same" Majida Khattari says. "Americans have discovered people and a religion at one stroke, but only under the aggressive and barbarous aspect. This is not a reality. They have made a community guilty for ten years, depicting them as terrorists," she pursues.

*****

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[French translation by Valentine Pasquesoone]

[Photo Courtesy of flickr user dmg025]

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