LEAVE ‘FREEDOM’ OUT OF IT

September 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

I was waiting tables at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. I refuse to call them the ‘9/11’ attacks; every time that we neglect to locate the event from the perspective of the year in which it happened, we are condemned to thinking of it as a recent occurrence, as something with which we have to live on a daily basis. Terrorism is not a daily event and is responsible for far less loss of life than actual phenomena which kills ten times more people every year, such as filthy air, contaminated soil and water and useless, pre-emptive wars.

But back to 2001. In the aftermath of that day, people began to ask for ‘freedom’ fries, a symbol of the bizarre and ignorant resentment of the French that was aroused as a result of their shameless audacity in not going along with the Bush administration’s kneejerk lust to invade Iraq and demonize Muslims in the weeks and months that followed. When faced with this request I would calmly inform customers that no such fries existed on the premises but that I would be more than happy to bring them french fries. I could already see the damage that was going to be done in the name of American patriotism’s version of ‘freedom’ and was eager to display non-cooperation wherever I could, even in seemingly meaningless ways.

Almost ten years later, dreading the overhyping of the terrorist threat and the militaristic glorification of murderous, exploitative wars which we’re supposed to believe have kept us ‘safe’, I’m reading steadily more about the new World Trade Center being erected in downtown Manhattan, which some are calling the ‘Freedom’ Tower.

On a practical level, this edifice has nothing to do with freedom, unless we’re talking about the freedom to amass obscene amounts of wealth. If this building were being built to house non-profit organizations dedicated to ending poverty, creating a healthy ecosystem and stopping acts of violence around the world that are committed in the name of defending national ‘interests’, I might be amenable to calling it the Freedom Tower. But that’s a pipe dream: the official name of the building is the World Trade Center and, as all of us should know, ‘trade’ in modern, geopolitical terms means a very small percentage of the population figuring out ways to become ever richer, without much benefit to the remainder of the people living on this planet.

This exploitation of resources and people is one of the main motivators of terrorism, but it is by no means the only one. Another is the aggressive projection of Western culture, in the name of profit, onto large groups of people who never asked for it. One of the ways this occurs is through the propagation of the myth of American ‘greatness’, that we are the ‘greatest’ nation in the world and that our way of life must be somehow ‘better’ than everyone else’s.

One of the cliches trotted out by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the Trade Center attacks was that the terrorists ‘hate our freedom’. This lie, perfectly convenient in its willful denial of the many legitimate reasons for outrage and feelings of disenfranchisement among peoples of the Middle East which spawned the completely illegitimate and heinous crimes against US citizens and foreign nationals on that day, may make some of us feel better in the short term but ultimately guarantees that we will lack the necessary self-evaluation that is required in order to make the changes that will lessen the degree to which others do indeed hate us.

I will not expound on the manifold ways that the US has engendered hatred throughout the world through aggressive, violent and imperialist policies- there are untold numbers of books, documentaries and lectures that can illuminate in those areas. What I will say is that while we conflate those policies into a self-perceived attempt to spread or guarantee ‘freedom’ to our citizens and others around the world, we only guarantee the spread of greater resentment and rage which will inevitably be turned into fanaticism and acts of terrorism by a tiny fringe element, an element we then exaggerate in the name of outrageous military spending and more international interference.

A lack of freedom did not cause the World Trade Center attacks. Nor is the US ‘freer’ than the multitude of other nations with a greater wealth equality, better services for their citizens and a greater priority placed on the maintenance of important civil liberties. We are not the best-looking, most morally upright person in the room and it’s high time we started to be intellectually honest when it comes to the language that we use. Language has consequences, as those in power know all too well. Unless we begin using language of humility and allowance and, more importantly, treat others with that same care,  we can look forward to more of the same from those seeking to do us harm.

Picture : The new 1 World Trade Center, a building built in the name of wealth accumulation.

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