The Meaning of September 11

“…We sent (Apostles) to many nations and We afflicted the nations with suffering and adversity, that they might learn humility.”

Qur’an 6:43

On Waliców Street in Warsaw, on the edge of what was once the Warsaw Ghetto, the 60-year-old graffiti reads Tesknie Za Toba – “I miss you.” That´s exactly right. In a world beset by violence the simple truth is that we cannot afford to lose even one more person.

The years since 9/11 have taught us so little. We need to reflect on the institution of violence and its effects on our common lives. Violence can and does solve problems in our world. Violence ended the rule of the Taliban. Violence rid us of the tyrant Saddam. But these are only some of its superficial consequences. Violence’s most fundamental creation in our world is Diaspora: the destruction of community.

War is a social disorder (as Clausewitz put it, “politics by other means”). Because this is true, the opposite of war is not peace. The opposite of war is community. Peace is simply the natural state of healthy communities, while wars are a global symptom of our communal dysfunction.

U.S. violence in Afghanistan and Iraq has destabilized vast populations of human beings who were already living inside of unacceptable catastrophes. Violence has built walls between those peoples and ours, enflamed prejudices and injustice, entrenched persecutions and created fears leading to increased hatreds, depression and despair. This is the central truth that lies at the heart of all violence – the brutal severing of human ties and emotions, the destruction of our human spaces.

Violence disrupts all of our lives:

-Economically, through the destruction of workspaces for employment and opportunity;

-Culturally, through the destruction of common spaces for art or sports or leisure, common spaces for interaction;

-Intellectually, through the destruction of space for education, for debate, for dissent;

-Physically, through the physical damage violence does to our bodies, through the physical destruction of life; and

-Emotionally, through the sheer weight of all of these losses: loss of life, and the loss of the creative space in which to be human.

If there is meaning in the events of September 11th, 2001 then it´s simply this: that our security cannot and must not depend on the insecurity of anyone else. If there was a purpose to September 11, we won’t realize it until we begin to redress all our losses and start seeing the rest of humanity as we see ourselves .  We won´t realize it until we realize, deeply realize, that for as long as any of us in this world are unsafe – all of us our unsafe.

Advocates of violence – be they individual terrorists, military or paramilitary groups, or governments – all assert their belief that when threats or injustice are serious enough, deadly force is the only method we can use to overcome these challenges and redeem our world. This is the offensive rationalization of violence: the delusion that it can be used to create peace. It’s mind-boggling that so many people do not understand that war does not bring peace, that all oppression is a consequence of some form of violence and that, in fact, all violence is itself a form of oppression.

But pain and suffering are not simply offensive acts. They can sometimes have a defensive role in our lives. If you put your hand on a hot stove then you’re going to get burned. That isn’t a good thing but it does (or should) teach you not to do it again. Violence causes violence: September 11 being one example, the devastation of Afghanistan another. Saddam’s rule being one example, our Occupation of Iraq the other. All were and are acts of injustice and all have resulted in vicious responses.

Violence is a pitiable way of putting things in balance, but it is a way of putting things in balance. This is the defensive purpose of violence – not in our using it to “defend” people, but in God slapping us in the face with our mistakes, trying desperately to show us that we are making poor choices.

September 11th helped no one in the Muslim world. It resulted in nothing but pain. Similarly, America´s vicious response has only increased hatred toward Americans. But September 11th was a wakeful slap. The ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere are wakeful slaps. Every single act of political violence that happens anywhere in the world, from “their” suicide bombings to “our” UAV bombings, are wakeful slaps.

Human beings commit these acts of terrorism for our own poor reasons, and I don´t believe God likes or wants any of them. Despite that, I do believe that God is speaking to us through our wretched acts against one another.

“Humans!,” God is telling us – “Grow up!”

As we approach the 10th anniversary of September 11th my fervent prayer is that we´ll finally learn to listen, and no one in our common family will have cause to miss any of our sisters or brothers ever again because of violence.

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American pacifist and writer.