The anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 is called both “Patriot’s Day” and “National Day of Service and Remembrance.” Trying to reconcile those sentiments and create one, overarching theme is impossible. In fact, it reveals the schizophrenia that has been at the heart of American history since our founding as well as being a sad commentary on how cleaved American society truly has become.
The fault lines are along the ideological divide; conservatives believe that Patriot’s Day is more to the point and went ballistic when President Obama and the Democratic Congress added the call for a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Liberals have embraced the additional designation and can’t understand what the fuss is all about.
Indeed, both concepts — while not mutually exclusive — represent the yin and yang of the American psyche. Patriot’s Day evokes martial images and the feelings of pride and love of country that coursed through most of us that day. A National Day of Service and Remembrance is a far more personal observance — reflective of what we lost and the always touching liberal notion that doing good deeds will change the world. The “9/11 Day” movement as it is known, has gone international, which folds into the idea that the attacks happened to the entire world and not just America.
A dubious proposition to be sure, but harmless. I understand that the pacifist sentiment that undergirds 9/11 Day demands that we de-Americanize the attacks. Many on the left see “patriotism” as skirting dangerously close to “nationalism” which leads eventually to “authoritarianism” which is why Patriot’s Day has such a bad odor about it for many liberals. No matter. We should embrace any remembrance as long as it doesn’t obscure the reason for marking the day.
In fact, the concept of a 9/11 Day, while denounced on the right as unAmerican, is actually as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Ford Motor Company (Sorry Chevrolet, but the bailout disqualifies you from being placed in the pantheon with hot dogs.) The determination to change the world finds echoes throughout American history and represents a reaching out to touch the better angels of our nature. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it and those on the right who find fault because the movement doesn’t pay homage to our military and refuses to single out Muslims as the culprits are ignoring the very American urge to make something good out of something bad.
Therein lies the seeds our schizophrenia. For a people who see themselves as peace loving, we sure do fight a lot of wars. Some would consider this hypocritical, but it’s beyond hypocrisy; it is the singular American ability to hold two completely contradictory views at once, believing in each with equal fervor, and ignoring the dichotomy.
During the Stamp Act riots, the English man of letters and compiler of the first English Language dictionary Samuel Johnson wrote a friend, “Why is it we hear the loudest yelps for freedom from the drivers of negroes?” Jefferson, whose writings about liberty are looked upon as seminal, was a slave holder and may have given his male guests what was euphemistically referred to at the time as “the run of the slave quarters” — an invitation for the guest to rape any slave woman he wished.
From the revolution through today, this schizophrenia has plagued us. And the urge to consecrate 9/11 as day of national pride, as well as an international day of hope and personal altruism exist co-equally in our consciousness without a problem.
But a National Day of Service and Remembrance is beside the point, isn’t it?
We are engaged in a long, twilight struggle with jihadists and their millions of sympathizers. To think that good deeds will assuage their hatred and temper their fanaticism is delusional. Uniting the world in remembrance of 9/11 is useless unless it comes with a recognition that the intolerance and hatred that drove those planes into American buildings will not be fixed by feel-good rhetoric or appeals to the Brotherhood of Man. The ideology that animates jihad is, admittedly, unIslamic. But the notion that we must temper our criticism or ease off in the fight against the extremists because it may offend some Muslims is absurd. The reality is that Islamism is on the march and is gaining power, and is as much a threat to mainstream Islam as it is to us.
There is nothing moderate — ever — about Islamism. Those who call the Muslim Brotherhood “moderates” are irrational. All one need do is watch what’s happening in Egypt to understand the folly of trying to peg Islamists as anything except radical authoritarians who seek to subjugate women, ban the opposition, arrest and imprison opponents, and — let’s be frank, shall we? — kill the Jews. They are the antithesis of everything humanity has sought to overcome over the last 1000 years and not fighting them in the public arena of ideas and the private world of intelligence and police work invites our destruction.
So, while the “I will…” 9/11 Day movement makes itself feel good by doing good deeds, the gimlet eyed radicals who seek to bring back the caliphate and force the conversion to Islam of the non-Muslim world continue to threaten us. The only thing that has changed since 9/11 is that we are 11 years older. The attitudes that prevented us from imagining a day like 9/11 are still prevalent and will cost us again unless we change.