Business, ideology and the 9/11 dead
By : Neil Berry
THEY hate us for our freedoms, exclaimed former US President George W. Bush, referring to his country’s “Islamist” foes. But American freedoms do not, it appears, stretch to free admission to New York’s National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which opened at the end of May.
Though the Memorial itself can be visited without charge, it is being marketed alongside the Museum (to which a gift shop is attached) as a total package, with prospective “customers” invited to book tickets online. It was George W. Bush’s White House predecessor, Calvin Coolidge, who in 1925 made the imperishable pronouncement that the “chief business of the American people is business.” Yet perhaps even that great champion of US entrepreneurship would have shrunk from introducing commerce into the commemoration of a national trauma which continues to trouble the American psyche profoundly.
Whether or not the mercantile character of the September 11 Memorial and Museum is open to question, what is surely cause for concern is its barely concealed propagandist intent. For the Museum experience offers a seven-minute film on the rise of Al-Qaeda that, according to the Washington-based Pakistani academic, Prof. Akbar Ahmed, is liable to implant in visitors (many of whom will be of tender age) the belief that violent militancy is what defines Muslims and their religion.
Of course, great numbers of the museum’s visitors are unlikely to have any qualms about the message the film conveys. But even among Americans there can hardly fail to be unease that the Museum is implicitly endorsing a US response to terrorism that has not only wrought endless death and destruction in Muslim lands but also done incalculable damage to America’s image and interests. The other day a young US writer, John Haltiwanger, published an article worrying about how far the museum will encourage Americans to reflect on their nation’s hectic “war on terror.” The danger, his article suggests, is that it will serve only to enshrine the stark binary world picture of George W. Bush, a picture according to which the US embodies everything good and Islam all that is evil.
Haltiwanger wants Americans to confront the truth about 9/11 and its baleful legacy. Yet what is puzzling, considering that truth is his theme, is that he makes not even passing reference to the substantial body of skeptics, the so-called “9/11 Truthers,” thousands of Americans among them, who do not believe that they have been told anything like the whole story about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
A remarkable feature of the post-9/11 era has been the way the “Truthers” have been reduced to the status of non-persons. Not that they were accorded much significance in the first place. In so far as they have ever been acknowledged by the mainstream media it is as cranks and freaks, bad people with an anti-US agenda. You would hardly guess that their ranks include scientists and engineers of keen analytical intelligence who hold the view that the official 9/11 story is riddled with improbabilities. How a plane presumed to have been piloted by an amateur could have accomplished the extraordinary acrobatic diving swoop required to achieve the ground level strike on the Pentagon is just one of the numerous mysteries that exercise them.
No less remarkable has been the readiness of millions to believe that Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11, even though the FBI itself has formally acknowledged that there is no evidence to link him with the attacks. The plain fact is that there has never been all that much public curiosity about 9/11 and its ramifications. The US academic Mark Danner recently recorded his astonishment at the absence of interest in the trial of five alleged 9/11 plotters that has been taking place before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay. Why, he wondered, is it not being dubbed the “trial of the century” and exciting vast media attention?
The impression is that for most Americans, as indeed for the western public at large, the events commemorated by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum simply do not bear much looking into.