As we once again commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, many commentators are dismayed that this year the sense of national unity we have often felt on this day has been replaced by rancor and hate speech against Muslims.
In his new book A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, Amitava Kumar describes the results of the War on Terror we have waged with 9/11 as a justification: innocent people framed by governments and the rise of the surveillance state. Kumar says, "The 9/11 Commission Report wanted us to exercise our imagination, and it demanded that we become more global. Well, we have. We have learned to use drones to kill Pakistani villagers—how many Korans get burned when those homes go up in flames?—and we wage war across the globe. Ground Zero dominates debate, but, like the War on Terror, its a loud and expensive distraction from the real crime of that other, distant war."
Marita Sturken's 2007 book Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero remains a crucial resource for understanding why we remember events like 9/11 the way we do. Sturken argues that over the past two decades, Americans have responded to national trauma through consumerism, kitsch sentiment, and tourist practices in ways that reveal a tenacious investment in the idea of America’s innocence. On this year's anniversary she says, "One of the things that the NYC mosque controversy shows us is the effect
of defining Ground Zero as 'sacred ground'—a process that happened
very soon after 9/11 and that has been very detrimental to the goals of
rebuilding the site. Because it emerges from both emotional and
political terrain, the idea of sacred ground is overdetermining. Where
does 'sacred ground' end? When both grief and politics are involved, it
can be deployed in a very elastic way."
It's been nine years since the awful events of September 2001 and we still don't have a formal memorial at Ground Zero. In this piece in In the Cause of Architecture, Mira Schor, author of A Decade of Negative Thinking: Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life, ponders what sort of memorial she'd like to see. She knows she doesn't want a staid, safe, traditional monument. She writes, "If the towers can't be rebuilt as was then I want
something else to look at, something as spectacularly tall, to see from
afar. Something even better than the towers, something exhilarating that
affirms human aspiration." Schor lives just blocks from Ground Zero and in her book she recounts watching the horror and living through the strange weeks following in the chapter "Weather Conditions in Lower Manhattan, September 11, 2001 to October 2, 2001." She responds to the controversy about the mosque in this Huffington Post piece, "My Whole Street is a Mosque."
Hope these books offer food for thought on this anniversary.