In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media have predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda. Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars that continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.
The failure to have that discussion is not an accident. In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda. But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence.
During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item should have been on his list. “You’re right,” he answered. And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”
“Why not,” I asked.
“Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”
His explanation was obviously bogus. But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.
Before I start this poem,
I’d like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon last September 11th.
I would also like to ask you
To offer up a moment of silence
For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned,
disappeared, tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes
For the victims in both Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the
hands of U.S.-backed Israeli
forces over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year U.S.
embargo against the country.
Before I begin this poem,
Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa,
Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country.
Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of
concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam – a people,
not a war – for those who
know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their
relatives’ bones buried in it, their babies born of it.
A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of
a secret war … ssssshhhhh….
we don’t want them to learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia,
Whose names, like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off our tongues.
Perhaps the most unlikely support for the planned Muslim Community Center at ground zero (aka Cordoba Mosque) comes from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Speaking publicly this morning at Governors Island off the tip of Lower Manhattan, Bloomberg presented several arguments in favor of the community center – arguments that were also intended to delegitimize at least some of the ‘Islamophobic’ assumptions that are so deeply embedded in the rhetoric of those opposing the plan; i.e.- coming from people like Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and the Anti-Defamation League (an organization which, at least in theory, claims to exist in order to combat anti-semitism.)
Although Bloomberg’s speech tends, more often than not, to invoke a rather romanticized conception of ‘American ideals,’ he also manages to cite other critical moments in U.S. history – moments when hysterical bigotry has similarly served to occlude the religious freedoms of communities that are now considered to be America’s erstwhile ‘Others.’ Accordingly, Bloomberg does a pretty good job of blending historical fantasy and fact in his attempt to sway American public opinion in favor of the community center. Here’s the transcript of his speech:
“We’ve come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that more than 250 years later would greet millions of immigrants in this harbor. And we come here to state as strongly as ever, this is the freest city in the world. That’s what makes New York special and different and strong.