“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;”— Shakespeare.
“Where were you when the towers fell?” That question was meant to be the defining question for our generation, or so said the older—and upon the current evidence, much more solipsistic—generation. It turns out the true defining question was, what did you do after?
This isn’t some ode to my time in the Army, or a litany of reasons behind why I joined, or a call for others to join up in more forever wars. Nor am I diminishing the emotion behind seeing our city attacked, the towers crumble, the people leaping to their deaths. I remember the anger and the need to lash out.
I will also remember my frame of mind and how getting caught up in such fury was more a matter of my miseducation than anything else. An attempt to blame others may seem like a moral failing—or at least moral expediency—and perhaps it is, but to ignore larger social forces is downright foolish, and so I must look to the forces that created me.
What I do remember was my acceptance of the views which held that Muslims were inherently violent, even if I was “nuanced” enough to think it only described a subset of “fundamental” Muslims to include other religions and their fundamentalist sides. In fact, the mocking talk about 72 virgins and 19 men dying for fanatical, fantastic visions was an easy cup for me to drink from. Even when Sikhs and others were attacked for nothing more than being brown, I thought such actions to be indicative of only a small minority rather than symptomatic of a greater disease in our nation.
When I joined the Army, I still thought in secular terms, even thought myself to be on the side of secularism. Nevertheless, this was tainted with a tidy-mindedness that I now abhor. Of course, I worked hard to move away from this view. Saw a lot, read a lot, and, finally, usurped the gods that I had hereto beholden to—I'm speaking in terms of the assumed truths we take for granted in our day to day living. It's not easy to do this, but I had no choice. Furthermore, worldwide, there appears to be some sort of mad-infection of tidy-mindedness spreading. It’s a reaction I find more than disheartening—and perhaps one of which I’m less and less understanding—even if I once walked down something like this path.
So when I hear talk about rapefugees, civilizational clashes between religions, and the current Muslim Ban here in the States, I’m struck by how angry and foolish—and, ultimately, evil—people around me sound and how the rhetoric only fuels this bend towards religious cleansing. Tidy-mindedness—or the idea that you can section off a part of humanity and end it, thus ending your uncomfortable feelings—works in insidious ways. And let’s make no mistake, this is simply democide by any other name. And though some of it seems erratic—a couple men killed in Oregon, to mention the most talked about one—it is rumbling under the surface with many in power willing to stoke it to their advantage. So, of course, conmen like Trump are ramping up the talk about civilizational struggles, when, in fact, it is him and his ilk who don’t represent civilization, or at the very least, only represent the worst of it.
And that’s why I mentioned this tidy-mindedness and its corrosive effects on the social fabric of the world—wherever it takes the reins. The trick is to make sure that we aren’t divided and don’t allow them to carry out “silent ethnic-cleansing”. Our humanity with all its hard complexities depends on it. So the question is posed again: what did you do in the aftermath of 9-11? I’m trying, I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd.
Some Groups to Consider (please tell me about more if you can):
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, 1000001 American Nights and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @nlowhim.