9/11 + 20

This Saturday marks the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. To that end, I thought I’d haul out some of the more edifying things I’ve written over the years about, or of relevance to, 9/11. In doing this, I’m to some extent plagiarizing at least the form of Chris Sciabarra’s most recent blog post at his blog, summarizing the twenty annual posts he’s written about 9/11. But plagiarism in this case is intended more as a tribute than as mere theft. If you read one thing about 9/11, you should read Chris’s Post of Posts.

The old World Trade Center site, April 2017.

If you read more than one thing, well, read some of my stuff. Not everything I’ve written since 9/11, I admit, has stood the test of time. Some of what I wrote, especially early on, was downright crap. For purposes of this post, however, I’ve singled out stuff that to my mind makes the cut twenty years after the event–writing that’s mostly true, and says something worth remembering in the future.

One of the first pieces I wrote on 9/11 was a critical review of Richard Posner’s 2006 book, Not a Suicide Pact for the now-defunct journal Democratiya (Spring 2007), whose archives are now housed at the website for Dissent magazine. I took issue there with what I described (and would continue to describe) as Posner’s suicidally rights-hostile right-wing jurisprudence. (12 page PDF).

Though I’ve plugged it before, I don’t mind plugging it again: another item I wrote for Democratiya (Winter 2008) was a critical review of Sarah Chayes’s 2006 book, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban. Chayes’s book was a liberal defense of nation-building imperialism of the sort we now associate with Robert McNamara and the Vietnam War. I criticized Chayes’s prescriptions on epistemic, strategic, constitutional, and moral grounds, suggesting that it was past time to leave Afghanistan. Though Chayes took offense at my review, I now wish I had put my claims more forcefully than I did. (20 page PDF).

Ground Zero, May 2014

In 2010, I published this paper (see link below to 12 page PDF), “Why They Hate Us: A Pedagogical Proposal,” for an anthology on pedagogical issues, Philosophy of Education in the Era of Globalization (Routledge). I don’t think the question at the center of the piece–“Why Do They Hate Us?”–has ever successfully been addressed or answered in the “national conversation” we’ve had about 9/11, something that I take to be symptomatic of “the West’s” failure to understand “Islamic terrorism.”

To put the point simply: we still do not adequately grasp why 9/11 happened. My own thinking about the question changed over the years, but I still stand by the framing of the issue I adopt here. (Related to “Why They Hate Us” but unavailable online is this paper I co-wrote with sociologist Gary Alan Fine on the 9/11 celebration rumors, “Celebrating Arabs and Kindly Terrorists,” published in Rumor Mills: The Social Impact of Rumor and Legend.)

This piece, “You’ve Got Mail: Teaching Osama bin Laden’s ‘Letter to the Americans‘,” (Reason Papers, Winter 2017), in effect reports on my attempts to put the preceding “pedagogical proposal” into practice in classrooms in New York and New Jersey (11 page PDF). Though not directly related to 9/11, I discuss my pedagogical experiences with Palestinian students at Al Quds University (Abu Dis, West Bank) in two as-yet unpublished essays, “Teaching Machiavelli in Palestine” and “Pedagogy Under Occupation.” (I belatedly remembered this blog post, also on pedagogical themes related to teaching 9/11-related topics, in this case, the issue of drone warfare.)

The 9/11 Memorial at Eagle Rock Reservation, West Orange, New Jersey, July 2014

The five trips I made to Palestine–two of them longish summer teaching gigs–profoundly changed my views on terrorism, American foreign policy, and frankly, life itself. This last piece, part of a symposium I organized on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified at Felician University, is, in some sense, an overt defense of (something approximating) “terrorism,” though not of 9/11 itself. (15 page PDF). It was inspired by reflection on the case of Palestine.

It’s an open question whether the thought-experiment I describe in the piece has ever been realized in history, or will ever be realized in the future, and also an open question whether the anti-imperialist resistance I defend there qualifies as “terrorism.” But I think it cuts close enough on both counts to raise questions about the identity of the good and bad guys in the “War on Terrorism.” More fundamentally, I think it raises the question whether such terms as ”good guys” and ”bad guys” have any intelligible application to the events of the last two decades, or the two decades prior to that, or the two decades (or centuries) prior to that. (Here’s a link to the whole symposium on Medina’s book in Reason Papers, Summer 2019).

“Apartheid Wall” Abu Dis, Palestine, July 2015

This Saturday (or shortly before it), I’ll post a revised version of my annual “Lessons of 9/11” post. I probably need to add something to it about post-bellum evacuations.

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