The Intolerable Sickness of It All

The Intolerable Sickness of It All

For a moment, drop all of the lenses and unlearn all of the vocabulary that we’ve used to understand the attacks of 11 September.

Forget the religious and political frameworks and strip away the multiple contexts that are supposed to make us comprehend the events of that day. Ignore the self-imposed historical importance that was heralded by politicians the media, or the later xenophobia and its political fallout that resulted in the Patriot Act, increasing censorship and reactionaries questioning the patriotism of their countrymen.

The purpose of terrorist acts is, ostensibly, to create terror. It is to pressure governments or ruling bodies into agreeing to the demands or acknowledge the complaints of a group that cannot attack with armies or use international diplomacy to achieve its goals. Terrorist attacks are most successful when striking what are called soft targets, just a euphemism for civilians. Yet devoid of all external meaning, vocabulary and justification, terrorist attacks are about accomplishing one thing only: murder.

Listening to the testimony being read into the record of the 9/11 Commission over the events on that day simply reiterated the mind-numbing reality that nineteen men hijacked four airplanes, took command of them and then proceeded to kill over three thousand people. Individuals who had no idea they were to meet their grisly ends that day; people who had no conception that they were the targets because someone, somewhere had declared war on them and decided that their lives were unworthy of life and deserved to be punished for the transgressions of their government. It is the same argument used over and over again, no matter who the perpetrator, either Usama bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, or Timothy McVeigh. Violence is seen as the answer, the ultimate form of protest and there is no compunction about killing other people to make their political grievances heard. And there are very few words in our language to express the utter obscenity of how the planes of 11 September where even allowed to strike their targets. It is an absurdity that will outlive us all.

The intolerable sickness of this disease, this wretched pathology that allows humans to kill their fellow man, has been a facet of our existence well before the 11 September attacks. But humanity, in its incessant quest to rationalize its own destructive impulses, has layered murder and violence with a wide array of ready-made excuses: religion, politics, freedom, democracy. Even those who would not normally condone murder, were stumbling over themselves to put the attacks into “context.” It must be, as the mantra of the left went, a result of American foreign policy. The airwaves were filled with talking heads spouting their pet historical theses; politicians betrayed their own ignorance of the world by asking "Why do they hate us?" as if the attacks were just about that emotion alone. The vast cadre of right-wing talk shows unleashed their barely-concealed xenophobia and call for retaliation that surpassed the number of deaths on 11 September. Everyone had an opinion and no one had any answers.

In our day and age of probing to find the root causes of everything that ails mankind, fantastical acts of murder and violence are never labeled such. They are political acts, uprisings, struggles against oppressors, pick your description and be comfortable with it. After 11 September, talk show host Bill Mahr became a virtual persona non grata when he declared that he understood what the hijackers did and did not call them cowards (or anything else) for their actions. No matter what one’s politics are, it was the most egregious example of the failure of the left: trying to find context for an act of murder. Victims of violence do not care about religion or politics, they are trapped in the emotional throes of what they know is their impending death. Authors of violence and their lickspittle acolytes who carry them out are only concerned with killing the most number of people possible. It’s only later that politics and religion is used to start putting bloodshed into “context.” It is highly unlikely that the trapped souls on any of the doomed airliners were concerned about their killers’ political stand on Israel or why American troops in Saudi Arabia is so offensive. All they knew with any certainty was that their lives were about to end, and they would never see their loved ones again.

That last statement is the simplest example of the one emotion humanity is at war with: empathy. As long as human beings can effectively deconstruct others in their midst, then any amount of violence is possible. When joined with religion and political ideology, the potential for genocide and other forms of unbridled destruction becomes only a matter of time. Empathy may be an evolutionary development (and not restricted to our species), but it often fails to overcome the stronger impulses that religion and politics can accomplish: lead to a breakdown of morality and make killing a possibility. For the killers of 11 September, they suppressed their empathy with religious vocabulary to justify their actions. They were gleefully labeled “martyrs” by those numerous people who celebrated the mass murder of three thousand strangers. And their own reasons? Political vocabulary was employed to blot out empathy: the attacks were the fault of the American government, and the victims of 11 September merely paid with their lives for the folly of their leaders. It is, simply, another lie, and a vicious one at that.

If you find it impossible that religious fascism can lead to a breakdown of morality, then ask yourself how many wars and suicide bombings and terrorist attacks were carried out in the name of secular humanism. The answer is none. Religion is often considered to be the one thing that leads humanity to greater levels of morality, but no one likes to admit that religion can provide the cover for outrageous monstrosity. Consider that after the attacks of 11 September, predictable noisemakers like Pat Robertston and Jerry Falwell invoked the lack of religion (in the form of abortionists and homosexuals) as the cause of the attacks, delightfully oblivious to the irony that their own religious vocabulary reduced the Supreme Being to the level of an angry and despicable deity bringing death and destruction. In that instance, what kind of society would we have if their religious framework defined how we live? It certainly would not lift man upwards, but simply act as the catalyst for paranoia, intolerance and even hatred.

Airplanes used as missiles, human beings used as walking explosive torches, all of it is beyond intolerable. It is a symptom of the general perversity of mankind to find new ways of killing one another, then dressing up murder as a religious obligation, or a political statement. We now live in abject fear of being killed, while simultaneously declaring that we will not be cowed. The petty machinations of politicians makes our predicament even worse, because we are within the reach of suicide bombers, not they. Military targets are now passé: all is permissible and all is legitimate. So long as there is a god and a holy book to invoke, human butchery will continue unabated until there is no one left.