By Martin Bosworth
This is going to be a slightly different 9/11 recollection. I’m not going to start by telling you where I was and what I was doing that day. Because 9/11 isn’t about me, really. Or you, or any one single person. It’s about something deeper, something that touches every person, everywhere.
It’s about fear.
Terrorism isn’t about inflicting the maximum body count or property damage possible. It’s about causing fear. Panic. Uncertainty. Chaos. It’s about causing a massive psychic wound on everyone affected and those around them–burdening them with the knowledge that they can never be safe. That death can come at any time, randomly, without reason, and you are powerless to do anything about it. Terrorism reminds you that you are not the master of your destiny, and cruel, capricious fate can snatch away everything you are and everything you’ve done, leaving nothing but a grave, a name on a plaque, and the grief of those who loved you.
Osama bin Laden and his ilk know this. They send out their little propagandist tapes and remind people that they’re out there, that they can strike at any time, and that as long as they remain free and clear, that psychic wound can never truly heal. There’s no catharsis, like there was after Pearl Harbor or the Oklahoma City bombings. We haven’t caught the bad guy, even though we probably could. But, as the Decider so famously said a few years back, catching the mastermind of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history is “not a top-priority use of our nation’s resources.”
Speaking of Bush, he and his masters know the meaning of fear as well. It’s what they’ve used to justify violating the Constitution for six years through illegal surveillance, invasive investigations, wasting taxpayer dollars on crony-filled initiatives like Homeland Security, and the seemingly endless propaganda tying Bush’s pet war in Iraq with 9/11, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Fear has been used to scare Americans into uncritically accepting the most egregious affronts to our life and liberty in my lifetime. Things that right-wing patriot militia types were screaming about fifteen years ago are now just met with a meek nod and a shrug. Bush and his cabal know that bin Laden is worth more to them alive, as the eternal boogeyman, the monster in the closet, the personification of the Other, the fear of the unknown. Because if he were to ever be brought in (dead or alive), then people would start asking–why do we need the Patriot Act? Why are we still in Iraq? Do we really need color-coded terrorism alerts, or ever-changing airport security regulations, or any of the millions of bullshit “security consultant” companies that milk taxpayer dollars to sell fear?
“9/11 changed everything.”
Except it didn’t. The knowledge that we will all die, and can sometimes die horribly for no reason, is knowledge we should carry with us as soon as we’re old enough to understand the concept of mortality. What matters is how you live your life and what you do with the time you have. Do you choose to live a life cowering in passive acceptance of the loss of our liberty, our democracy, the things that make us great as Americans?
Bruce Schneier famously wrote that we, as a collective species, don’t manage risk effectively. We think nothing of smoking, drinking, eating crappy food, taking crappy drugs, driving badly, and doing a million other things that will kill us a lot faster and a lot more certainly than a terrorist attack. Yet we freak out when spectacular risks are brought to our doorstep, and treat these once-in-a-lifetime events as the thing we should be most prepared to deal with.
America will be attacked by terrorists again. This is inevitable. It may come from al-Qaeda, domestic militiamen, some lone psycho with a bomb, or something we may not even know about yet. But it will happen. When that time comes, we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to stomach even more infringments on our rights, even more disgraceful violations of our freedoms, even more subtle transformations into a police state.
Make no mistake–we should never forget those who died, and we should cherish those who lived and fought to save lives. But the wound in our country’s soul must heal. If we cannot catch bin Laden–and we absolutely should–then it must heal by our collective will to stop being afraid. To stop equating patriotism with submission and acceptance. To stop willingly let ourselves be used as pawns in the game. To stand up, to challenge, to think, to question, and to live our lives as we want to live them. Without fear.
Today I could die. You never know how it could happen or when. But that isn’t going to stop me from doing all the things I normally do and living my life as I see fit.
I will not live a life in fear.
And neither should you.