Thursday, March 25, 2004

One of the most common phrases heard in the wake of 11 September 2001 was “the world has changed.” Of course, the world did not really change on 9/11. It was the United States’ PERCEPTION of the world that changed. America’s reaction to 9/11 changed the world far more than the 9/11 attacks themselves. Terrorism was a problem long before 2001. The only thing truly unique about 9/11 was its spectacular nature (skyscrapers crashing down in the heart of the financial capital of the world).

One of the other common phrases heard in the wake of 9/11 was that all things considered, it wasn’t really a big deal. “Only” 3000 people died. After all, this is a pittance compared to the number of people who die of AIDS every day. Even malaria claims about 2700 victims on a daily basis. Furthermore, this was a pittance compared to the number of foreigners Americans have killed in [insert speaker’s foreign policy cause celebre]. Some argued that 9/11 was America’s own fault because of their government’s foreign policy decisions.

Some people get outraged when I call 9/11 a crime against humanity. As a progressive, I'm supposed to toe the left-wing orthodoxy that America deserved 9/11. But because I'm a progressive, I can't.

Due to some inexplicable mental contortion, critics think that if you call 9/11 a crime against humanity, you’re somehow acting as an apologist for the Salvadoran death squads, Augusto Pinochet and every dictator the US has every supported.

This disgusts me. If you believe in and speak the language of human rights, you must do so consistently. Those on the left MUST be as forceful in condemning a crime against humanity like 9/11 as they are in condemning, say, the Israeli occupation.

First, it’s thoroughly disingenuous to equate an unintentional tragedy like AIDS to something intentional like mass murder. Anyone who’s read my essays knows I’ve written frequently about the AIDS crisis in Africa. But I’ve never used it to diminish crimes against humanity.

Second, it angers me that many of those who unwittingly act as apologists for 9/11 are vocal critics of the civilian cost of the Iraq invasion. It baffles how one can be angered about the UNINTENTIONAL deaths of Iraqi civilians but casually brush aside the INTENTIONAL murder of American civilians. There’s some perverse logic in this that I don’t understand. Sadly, this sort of hypocrisy gives real ammunition to those who wish to tar all liberals and progressives as "America haters."

Third, there’s the numerical argument. 3000 killed in 9/11 is a “blip” compared to other things, notes one of my readers. The implication is that it’s not a big deal because it’s “just” 3000. When tragedies are measured by numbers rather than intent or effect, it’s thoroughly dehumanizing. Rwanda saw “only” 800,000 slaughtered, which was a far cry from the millions of the Holocaust. This was one of the justifications used to avoid intervention (“it’s not genocide, just a little ethnic bloodletting”). The number of people murdered in Srebenica was only 1% of Rwanda’s number; does this mean Slobodan Milosevic’s trial should be abandoned as a result?

I’ll be more than happy to accept the statement “9/11 was bad, but let’s not forget there are other bad things going on too.” I won’t accept the statement, “other bad things are going on too so 9/11 was nothing to care about.”

But really the most despicable implication is that the people killed in 9/11 somehow deserved it because of past decisions their government had taken. When Serbs used historical grievances to justify their ethnic cleansing of the Bosnians and Kosovar Albanians, liberals were outraged. When Hutu extremists used historical grievances to justify their genocide of the Tutsis, liberals were outraged. Yet, these people were the first to use historical grievances to “explain” and minimize the nature of 9/11.

To say that a crime against humanity depends not on the nature of the horror but the nationality of the victims is totally antithetical to what any decent human being should believe.

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