Saturday, September 12, 2009

A letter from 2001.

I always think it's important to talk about 9/11, and to remember. Watching the towers fall from the front steps of my apartment building is an image that is forever burned into my mind. This year in my classroom, I read a poem that I wrote a few years back to my students, and asked them for any images that stood out. L said "the part about seeing tanks on the street, feeling so close to war and that you called this crime scene home". We broke that line down a little bit and I asked about why I would call it a crime scene. J responded "because it is a crime that all of those people had to die, for oil".

Now, as a teacher, I have shifted the way that I speak about my experiences, and my after-thoughts. It is not my job to indoctrinate my students with my political beliefs, and it is interesting to hear them say that Bush was behind the attacks. I wonder about the origins of those statements and I need to be careful to frame my words with "some people believe it was like this... others argue that it was like this." I do not seek to raise parrots in my classroom, but want these kids to listen to information, ask questions and make their own decisions about what they believe (about 9/11 and everything else we talk about).

Most of my students were 6 when it happened. I was 21, senior year of college; I was working as an RA in the dorms at the New School. we had just opened up a dorm three blocks away from the Twin Towers. I was at that dorm two days earlier, commenting on the view of the towers from the western windows. But whether or not my students remember, I still think it's important to remind them. (and sometimes, I learn how personally they were affected by it... all my love to your famly, I.) It is a massive moment in our history, when some would say the U.S. was dethroned from our self-appointed dynasty.

While I fervently desired to teach before 9/11, the urgency increased afterward, because I realized how closely ignorance is related to a reactionary response to a situation like this. My prayers and blessings to the families who are remembering their lost loved ones, and who do not have the luxury of forgetting this day.

I was searching for words yesterday, and a quick google search of myself reminded me of what I had to say about 9/11 in 2001. I was so much more eloquent then, so I am re-posting... it is 8 years old, but it's surprising how relevant it still is, because we are still at war. Let's bring our soldiers home and worry about our domestic issues, America. Let us no longer be the oppressor the world over.


Letter to a girl at school
By Lauren Michele Fardig

This is a letter I wrote in response to a classmate who had written an article for Newsweek titled "The Day The World Changed, I Did, Too" (Oct. 1, 2001 issue, p. 9). It was about her feeling patriotic and pro-war because she felt that a war focused on terrorists is the only way to keep "us" safe. I have to ask, "Who is ‘us’?" Anyway, I know that it has been a month and that everyone is "trying to get back to normal" but that is impossible for me.

October 12, 2001, 4:29 a.m.

Hey there. I feel weird typing out a letter to you, but for some reason I’ve been doing all of my writing on the computer lately, which is unlike me, but oh well. I’ll take writing in whatever form it wants to come in these days.

It’s been difficult for me to write during the past month. I’ve been writing a lot, but it’s not the peaceful release that it used to be. Writing itself has become an act filled with anguish – an act of resistance – because sometimes I feel like words are the only weapons I have (and would want to have) so I must use them wisely, especially in times like this.

I want to talk to you about your article, because I think it’s very honest and talks very emotionally about how you’re feeling regarding the World Trade Center attacks. I too denounce violence against Arab-American and perceived Arab people in this country and abroad, but I must say that I am strongly anti-war. I don’t believe that I am confusing justice and revenge when I make this statement and I don’t believe in complete pacifism in this circumstance whatsoever. I do think that the people responsible for the hijackings should be brought to justice, but I don’t think that a focused war on terrorists is something that will keep anyone the safest.

I heard on the radio today that despite this week’s bombings in Afghanistan, bin Laden and the leaders of the Taliban are still safe. I know that they have already begun and it will be difficult (if not impossible) to convince the American government to stop bombing, but I do think that the people going to be most affected by these bombings are the Afghan civilians. I think that releasing some sanctions on Middle Eastern countries combined with the U.S.’s participation in the creation and implementation of an international criminal court would be a much more humanitarian option to bombing countries in which a fundamentalist terrorist group resides. Knowing bin Laden’s history as a CIA operative in the 80’s, I don’t doubt that intelligence has some reasons for sincerely believing his involvement, which they are not explicitly relating to the people. But until we know that, and taking into account the video that was released last Sunday of bin Laden speaking, I am not fully convinced that he is responsible.

That aside, I do want you to know that it has been extremely important to me to think critically about U.S. involvement in the Middle East AND allow myself the space to feel and deal with the grief and sorrow of knowing that thousands of people died a mile from my house. The plane crashes were intentional, well executed, despicable and utterly unjustifiable. I do see how the U.S.’ imperialist and interventionist role in foreign policy, not only in the Middle East but in Nicaragua, Cuba, Panama, El Salvador, Vietnam, Puerto Rico, and all over Africa and Latin America, has fueled large amounts of hatred toward the American government from many Third World countries. I do understand how people at school could say things like, "This is our own fault" and such, though I think it’s a really simplistic and reactionary way to put things into perspective. No one on those planes, in those buildings, or trying to save those lives deserved to die, and no matter what role the U.S. played in instigating such animosity in the hearts of others, that will not change. However, I think it’s really dangerous to set up an "Us vs. Them" mentality.

I know you were speaking about terrorists as the "them," but you have to understand how angry people get when a country supposedly based on freedom and democracy has oppressed them for so long. Freedom and democracy for whom? Certainly not those who are not white, not Christian, not straight, without money, illiterate and living in Third World countries. I have found it hard to find faith in patriotism in these past few weeks. Even though I was very unsure, very afraid, very confused, one thing I knew is that this was not an attack on "freedom itself" as George W. Bush stated. So many of the people working in the WTC were not free. There were more than 500 undocumented Mexican workers employed at Windows on the World who were killed, whose families are afraid to come forward with their names for fear that they will be deported under more strict INS regulations. The World Trade Center was built on a slave burial ground. We are living in a country that still thought of black people as three-fifths of a person not even 150 years ago.

I do not find solace in believing that my country will protect me. I am more concerned for the people who live in this country who are racially profiled everyday, who are incarcerated for petty drug charges and serving life sentences because they are non-white, who are beaten to death for being outwardly homosexual or trans. When I think about current safety regulations, I have to think about *who* is being made to feel more safe and just what we are defending when we strut off to war. I live my everyday life with a certain amount of privilege due to the color of my skin, the level of my education, my ability to be in a private, liberal arts college to study what brings my life passion and meaning. I do not have to think about where I am placed in the world because no one demands it of me. But I demand it of myself, because as a writer, an educator, and a white, queer, working-class woman, I strongly believe that no one can be truly human until we are all human.

We must stop dehumanizing others, and I fear that setting up an Us vs. Them dichotomy severely risks essentializing certain ethnic and religious groups as a "them" (I’m not implying that you said that, just that it could be interpreted that way). When you said, "These terrorists despise our very existence" who is the "our" you are speaking about? The U.S. is a very diverse country of all races, sexes, sexualities, classes, national origins, and religious affiliations. While it is easy to think that this was an attack on America as a whole, from the international news I’ve read in the course of my life, I do believe that many people across the world have a strong understanding of the difference between the American people and the American government. I can definitely read the symbolism in the WTC attacks as a direct hit on capitalism itself, on the invincibility that the U.S. formerly believed itself to have, on the arrogance of our false generosity in aiding under-developed countries with our own economic interests in mind.

Anyway, these are some thoughts that your article provoked in me. I definitely understand your reaction toward what’s been happening all around us, but I do think it’s important to place this action in its historical context in order to try to understand that it did not happen randomly, out of the blue without any provocation or pressure. It is all too easy to try to turn it into a battle of "good" vs. "evil", but that is irrelevant in this case. While the U.S. had a major involvement in ending Nazi takeover in Europe during World War II, we were simultaneously placing Japanese Americans in internment camps in Northern California. We have our own history of violence and genocide, which I know you did not dispute, but it is important to ask how retaliation is going to keep us safe, when it is only endangering the lives of many other innocent people.

At a march on Sunday, I listened to the father of one of the people killed in the WTC speak about how it would not make his grief subside to bomb anyone, thinking of all the other fathers who may lose sons and daughters at our hands. My current focus is definitely on education and how we can work to bring in alternative media and ideas, how we can work to use our experience to aid in the fight for social justice and change. I strongly believe that peace and diplomacy, instead of economic and military force, are necessary in order to change the circumstances that brought this attack to the U.S. Returning to normalcy is simply not an option for me; there is a heightened sense of urgency in my struggles to work for social change. I am deeply upset and entrenched in all of this and think it so crucial to bring writing, teaching and learning to the table as ways to heal, collectively. I’d like to keep on dialoguing with you about this. Thanks for your honesty and analysis.


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