Sunday, September 11, 2011

This September 11, Reject the Enemy Meme

A year ago, I posted the following message on Facebook and my 40 Days of Giving blog:
I have no enemies. There are people out there who want me, or those I love, dead for some abstract reason, but such a person is not my enemy. I wish them no ill. I have no deeper desire than that they find something in their life that brings them pure love, joy, and peace. I wish for them - as I wish for my sons, dearest friends, and myself - nothing but the best that the world has to offer.
That was how I commemorated the ninth anniversary of September 11, and I think it well sums up the sentiments I'm feeling come this anniversary.

The world makes more sense if we can draw lines between ourselves and others, and declare the people on the other side of that line the enemy. They are bad and we are good. We are heroes and they are villains.

I call this the "enemy meme" - the idea that these lines have real meaning, and that this "enemy" designation has some sort of real value, that it somehow helps make the world a better or safer place. (In fairness, after September 11, even I fell victim to embracing the "enemy meme" for several years.)

In the realm of politics, the "enemy meme" is especially prevalent, and we're such a politically charged society that it's hard to avoid it. Consider the recent case with union leader Jimmy Hoffa Jr. calling Republicans "Sons of Bitches" and invoking militant terminology, about becoming an army in support of the Democrats. In this vivid scenario, the Republicans are the enemy, and the union forces are the heroic army.

Does such talk really help anybody, including the people making them?

I don't think so. These attempts to dehumanize others, to build a wall, never lead to any sort of reconciliation or healing. When they are invoked, though, I don't think that reconciliation or healing is the goal. I suspect that Jimmy Hoffa Jr., when he spoke those lines, cared little about healing the economic problems of the country. I suspect that when militant terminology was invoked by Republican candidates in the 2010 midterms, those candidates were more concerned with winning than with reconciliation or healing.

I think such efforts are fundamentally misguided, and here's why:
Life isn't a zero-sum game. You don't win by making the other guys lose. You win by figuring out a way to make even more people come out ahead.

Back to September 11 and the War on Terror. Consider that the fighting has resulted in the death of 30,000 Pakistani civilians, upward of 4,000 Afghanistan civilians, upward of 98,000 Iraqi civilians, as well as the death of nearly 6,000 American soldiers (in both Afghanistan and Iraq). That's over 138,000 deaths of people who were in no way connected to the 9/11 attacks, and the overall impact, when taking into account the wounded, is far above that. Even if you question the methodology used (perhaps "civilian" includes non-uniformed enemy combatants or something), even scaled back to just 25% of that count, you'd still get 34,500 deaths!

Think about it again:
It would have taken nearly 12 to 46 successful September-11-scale attacks to equal the total innocent death toll of the response to September 11.
Now, I am not arguing that we shouldn't have taken out the Taliban or Osama bin Laden, and certainly that we shouldn't act in our nation's security interests. I'm just pointing out that, by the numbers, the war following September 11 has been much more devastating than the event itself.

While the attacks on September 11 were tragic, the response - the loss of life, and also the growth of hatred and animosity - has been just as tragic, if not more so. When we think of 9/11, it's our obligation to those who died to think of all of the victims, not just the ones who died that day.

The most profound stories of healing and overcoming the tragedy, I find, are the ones about the people who refuse to accept the "enemy meme" that so many of us are so ready to embrace:


Consider the two 9/11 widows - both pregnant at the time of the 2001 attacks - who began a charity, Beyond the 11th, to help Afghanistan widows, as chronicled in the documentary Beyond Belief (also available for streaming through Netflix or purchase through Amazon and other retailers). They have recognized that their healing lies in serving the victims on the other side of the tragedy.

Or the mother of a 9/11 victim who has established a friendship with the mother of one of the convicted 9/11 co-conspirators. They describe their friendship - an active symbol of the most profound forgiveness imaginable - in the TED video embedded below.



And, finally, consider another TED video, this one by the Muslim Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of the Islamic-based comic book The 99, which features 99 heroes from around the world, each of whom has a different power based on 99 virtues that the Koran states are inherent in the nature of Allah. (At least that's my understanding of the religious connection to the series, based on Al-Mutawa's 2010 TED talk.) From within the Muslim community, he is attempting to speak out against the view of "us" against "them" to propose a profound message of unity and peace, of cooperation, toward a brighter future. He refuses to acknowledge the "enemy" role with which the militant fanatics in the Muslim world attempt to brand the non-Muslim world.

The enemy isn't a religion, or even men who want to kill us for whatever reason. The true enemy is the hatred that makes them want to kill us. Yes, of course, we must defend ourselves against those who would act on that hatred, but it is the hatred that we must figure out how to abolish.

I believe that the only true enemy is the ideology of hatred, no matter what tradition it is rooted in.

This September 11, I hope you agree.

And, if you don't, you still aren't my enemy (though I suspect that your ideology may be), and I still wish you nothing but the most profound happiness in life. I believe it can only be found in loving others - all others - as much as you possibly can ... and then doing it a little bit more.

Give it a try for a time and I am certain you'll be surprised with how good it feels.
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