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Doug Allen is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Maine and the author of “Gandhi After 9/11: Creative Nonviolence and Sustainability.” His views are his own.
Three famous Sept. 11s teach us positive and negative lessons in 2021. On Sept. 11, 1906, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) provided the positive 9/11 message that spoke to Martin Luther King Jr. and speaks to us today. On that day in South Africa, Gandhi launched his mass, moral, social, nonviolent movement (Satyagraha) to overcome fear, terror and insecurity. He used nonviolent truth-force, love-force, soul-force to resist oppression and injustice. He showed us how to create positive moral, nonviolent, truthful, spiritual alternatives to terror and terrorism.
By way of extreme contrast, there is Sept. 11, 1973 in Chile. On that day, Salvador Allende, democratically elected socialist president of Chile, was violently overthrown with the support of Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, our Central Intelligence Agency, our corporate interests in Chile’s copper mines and coordinated with Chile’s military junta. Gen. Augusto Pinochet led the military coup and exercised brutal military dictatorial rule from 1973 to 1990. Thousands of Chileans were tortured, executed and “disappeared” (i.e., died) in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 1973. Unlike Gandhi’s 9/11, this is a message of violence, terror, terrorism, death and anti-democratic fascist insurrection that also speaks to us today.
Then there is Sept. 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 died as terrorists turned four airplanes into weapons of mass destruction in acts of terrorism. We recall what individuals experience that tragic day and positive messages of self-sacrifice, compassion and bonding of our nation and world. What is the answer of how to respond to this terrorism?
What is usually ignored is how legitimate calls for justice become framed as violent calls for revenge and war, “endless wars,” “forever wars,” that are not the answer. The infliction of terror and terrorism, supposedly to overcome terrorism, entraps us and is not the answer.
Dichotomizing we are good, the others are evil, if you are not with us after 9/11 you are evil and our enemy, is not the answer. This good-evil dichotomizing quickly spread beyond Afghanistan with George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” then to billions of “others” throughout the world in the past 20 years, and that is not the answer. Policies based on militarism and imperialism, our permanent war economy, control and domination of oil and other resources, cheap labor, maximizing profit and consumption, inequality, nuclear superiority, and unsustainable values and priorities are not the answer.
What this tragically means is that the lessons before and at the time of Sept. 11, 2001, are even more true today. We are less free from terror and terrorism and less secure abroad related to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Middle East, Somalia, Sudan, China, Russia and elsewhere than we were 20 years ago. We are less free from terror and terrorism and less secure in the U.S. today due to domestic terrorism, hatred, white supremacy and systemic racism, Islamophobia, anti-Asian and Asian-American terror, antisemitism, anti-democratic “America First” xenophobic activism and more than we were 20 years ago.
What that means is that we must remember and honor those U.S. Americans and millions of others who were victims, suffered and died. We honor the peacemakers who, throughout the post-World War II Cold War, throughout and after the Vietnam and Indochina War, at the time of the first Gulf War against Iraq 10 years before 9/11 and throughout the 1990s, and on Sept. 11 and in the days and years after, spoke truth to power, resisted and offered us lessons and alternatives that are more true and desperately needed today than ever.
We can learn the positive and negative lessons of these Sept. 11s, of how that date can bring out the best and the worst in us. We can then work for a more nonviolent, peaceful, just and economically, politically and environmentally sustainable future.