Today is the 18th anniversary of the multiple terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, which killed thousands.
Looked at with almost two decades of distance, those mass attacks seem like a near-inevitability because of the escalating scale of terrorist violence to which Americans were subjected over a significant period of time, going clear back to the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut in 1983 at least. But from the lens of the moment, 9/11 was a shock of such brutality that it pierced the national consciousness about exactly how dangerous our world had become — including to ordinary Americans going about their business in America, not some far-off land of twisted politics and ancient tribal hatreds.
It seems to me that in times of national tragedy or crisis, when there is a rendering of the nation's emotional fabric, we come together, we sloganeer as a shorthand way of expressing our outrage, solidarity and determination ("We will never forget"; "Boston strong"). We erect memorials and our politicians make fine speeches.
Sometimes, even, a few things change, like laws and daily processes. Examples are the Homeland Security Act and the USA Patriot Act, not to mention a brand new regimen of personal searches and examinations at public places ranging most obviously from airports to stadiums. They are all a part of the great balancing act needed to reconcile the absolute requirement levied on all levels and branches of government to keep the citizenry safe and the expectations of preserving individual freedom and privacy. It's not an easy balance to maintain, but it's vital to the health of our democracy.
The problem with sloganeering is that, over the course of time, it comes to be a substitute for the kind of resolve needed to ensure continued public safety and security, especially as the event that triggered the national recoil of horror recedes into the years.
Just a few days ago, a federal judge declared unconstitutional the federal government's watchlist that is used to determine whether or not a person constitutes a serious risk if allowed to board an airplane. I can think of no more significant and potentially detrimental act by a sitting federal official. What, one wonders, will he say if there are horrific consequences to his decision? "Sad, but not my fault"?
The judge rendered his decision on behalf of plaintiffs supported by the organization CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal Holy Land Foundation criminal case that involved a siphoning of funds from that front foundation to the Hamas terrorist organization. Some of the members of CAIR have expressed radical and/or anti-semitic views; some are suspected of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
No sooner had the watchlist decision been announced than Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar went on social media to declare her elation, as did Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Omar and Tlaib themselves have had some brushes with notoriety for their anti-semitic remarks, as well as affiliation with individuals known to harbor extreme views.
Most recently Omar declared that to vet potential immigrants' social media views and remarks is "fascism", even though recent history tells us that our security and immigration agencies should have been doing this all along. If they had, perhaps the San Bernardino terrorist attack, among others, might have been averted. Even employers examine job applicants' views prior to hiring.
As I said, today is the 18th anniversary of the multiple terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 which killed thousands. This means that those attacks have little emotional significance to a huge proportion of our population: Millions of American youths are too young to have fully absorbed the shock of the attacks, and nearly 20 million immigrants have legally immigrated to the United States since then. I say this not because immigrants are incapable of experiencing horror, sympathy, or empathy, but because not having been in, or a part of, our society when the 9/11 attacks occurred, the emotional resonance would not be the same.
As I also said, sloganeering is a poor substitute for the continued resolve needed to keep our nation safe in a fragile and dangerous world. Have we already forgotten?