The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

A peculiar silence had consumed the usual commotion of my elementary classroom when my teacher Ms. Rubin rushed into the room in the early hours of September 11th, 2001. Her face had lost its familiar tones of vibrance, and her hands were clapped to her mouth.

“The Twin Towers have been hit,” she chokingly announced.

The events of 9/11 profoundly impacted my childhood. I recited the pledge of allegiance every morning, yet I was singled out for my brown skin. Our neighbors shunned my family and I was frisked without fail upon every visit to the airport. I feared for my family — not from terrorism, but from the patriotic zeal that plagues this country.

This blind patriotism resurfaced yet again when conservative groups on campus filed a petition condemning Professor Neel Ahuja and his “Literature of 9/11” class. National media outlets subsequently published columns equally dismissive of the course.

The truly disturbing aspect of the petition and national response, however, was not its attack on academic freedom, but the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and imperialism that underlies it. This rhetoric — not its subversion — ultimately desecrates the memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11.

Let’s deconstruct this rhetoric and its assertions:

The United States and the “Western” world are not engaged in an unending clash of civilizations against the “East.” Just days after the attacks on 9/11, President Bush declared the War on Terror as a crusade and Iraq as a part of the Axis of Evil, evoking the massacre of the “evil” Muslims by the “good” Christian crusades. The petition similarly dichotomized the “civilized” West and the “uncivilized” East by championing the so-called Western University (whatever that means). This binary is based entirely on racial and cultural supremacy — a logic that justifies slavery, colonialism and genocide.

The United States is an agent of global violence. Its imperialist agenda operates through state-sanctioned terror and occupation. Recent U.S.-led wars have led to over 200,000 civilian deaths. Meanwhile, the U.S. also sanctioned a range of human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

“Poems from Guantánamo,” a course reading for “Literature of 9/11,” shares the perspective of prisoners like Mohammed el Gharani who was detained at the age of 14 and held for seven years without trial. The Pentagon still refuses United Nations investigators access to inmates at Guantanamo.

Terrorism must be radically redefined. Western supremacy is terrorism. The violent deaths of nearly a quarter million people is terrorism. The unlawful detainment and torture of prisoners is terrorism. The United States of America is among the most prolific agents of terror in the world.

Let’s be clear: Criticizing the U.S. does not desecrate the memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11. To the contrary, if you are interested in truly honoring their memory, you would be critical of how their deaths are being used to justify global violence.

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