Rethinking 9/11

By CATHERINE TUMBER  |  September 11, 2006

Playing on public fears aroused by the attacks 9/11, the Bush administration has engaged in torture and indefinite detention of people without due process in Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at so-called secret CIA "black sites" around the world.  The Executive Branch has engaged in domestic spying on ordinary Americans, including peace activists, environmentalists,  vegetarians and others.  These actions are taking place behind a veil of secrecy, so that the citizens often do not know the extent of the abuse of power by this administration.

Congress, meanwhile, has abandoned its oversight duties, and judicial power-stripping measures have made it increasingly difficult for the courts to protect individual liberty.  I shudder to think that this administration will be allowed to use the politics of fear to dismantle our system of checks and balances that for more than 200 years has kept our nation both safe and free.  I believe that each of us has a responsibility to stop this abuse of power and to restore the rule of law.

Ha Jin, novelist

September 11 has not changed my view of democracy, but it has altered it. For instance, whenever I travel abroad, especially in Europe, I have found myself defending American democracy, having to explain that the United States is a democratic country, the infrastructure is there, and that there’s a difference between the current administration and the country. In Germany, someone asked me, “You are from a country with a dictatorship and now you are living in a similar country. How do you reconcile the two?” That kind of question comes up, and puts me on the defensive. In turn, it makes me think about democracy constantly, more aware of civil liberties and other issues related to democracy. But I remain optimistic and still have hope. We still struggle and try to respect civil liberties and try to keep the ideal and the practice intact.

In terms of my writing, September 11 somewhat affected a shift in me — here was a subject I wanted to avoid. It was such a traumatic event. Even just mentioning it would leave me feeling very self-conscious. We cannot just easily appropriate others’ suffering and misery. I know stories, and even good stories, related to September 11, but I am not removed enough to write about it or anything related to it because it is such a traumatic thing just to remember it. So I’m aware of it, but whenever I get close to it I become very self-conscious. I don’t know how to deal with it directly. Maybe I will never. I don’t know.

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