This 9/11, not the first, is the one when I feel most hopeless about our nation.
On that day a dozen years ago — after washing the debris of the day off me — I held hope that the tragedy would unite Americans to stand against tyranny and for democracy and freedom.
Today I see a nation that is not upholding the principles of freedom but is instead still using 9/11 as an excuse to threaten speech and assembly, to isolate ourselves from the world, and to build closed fortresses rather than the open square.
That’s not to say I didn’t find 9/11 leading me down wrong paths. I supported the Iraq war, not because Saddam Hussein had a thing to do with the attack on us, of course, but because I bought the rationale that we should stand up for his oppressed people and free them for democracy — and the promise that we could succeed. I was wrong.
But as we debate Syria now, I am troubled that we are not willing to place a red line at tyranny or to decide where that line is. I’m not saying we should attack Syria — I have learned that lesson. But I do wish we would first discuss what our obligation is to these people and then discuss means. Instead, I hear a debate only about degrees of isolation.
I am disgusted at every revelation from Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and the Guardian about the massive violation of essential rights committed by the NSA. I worry greatly about the chill this puts on speech, on assembly, and on the advancement of technology. I don’t blame the spies. Cats must kill, spies must spy. I blame our leaders for not doing their single most important job: protecting freedom.
This morning, I went back to the World Trade Center. I used to go there faithfully on this date. Today, I decided to visit at the last minute. Now that the 9/11 Memorial is complete, every activity of the day is being held there, closed behind wire and walls. I could barely hear the bagpipes in the air.
That the 9/11 Memorial and today’s remembrances are held in a fortress is emblematic of the wrong path we have taken these 12 years: not toward openness but toward isolation, not toward generosity but toward defense, not toward principles but toward expediency. We should be closer to freedom. We are farther away.
But I must search for hope in the day. I want to find hope in the bravery of a few whistleblowers and journalists who are fighting for our right to know what our government is doing to us and the world. I want to find hope in the fact that we are not blindly entering another war and are at least debating it first. I want to find hope in going to the World Trade Center and seeing the hole in our soul finally filled in. I want to.