Largely Unattended 9/11 Forum Stifled Productive Discussion

Please welcome Emily, another new writer of ours

EDIT: Please read the recent Justice article on this event, which I found very enlightening, particularly the sophomore that was interviewed who was profoundly personally affected by the September 11th attacks. There is a particular reason for my- and other attendees at this discussion- ignorance to his experience, and I wish he was available to speak earlier in the discussion. I find that this new piece of information, along with my own shift of opinion, gives the forum ground to speak of a tragedy as a tragedy, and not a means for analysis and social productivity. However, I am greatly disappointed that there wasn’t, to my knowledge, any other forum on those latter issues that Thursday, and my argument still stands… just not for this particular forum. Thanks again to McElhaney, Grey, and Father Cuenin; new thanks to Michelle Liberman of the Justice.

Father Cuenin, empty chair, empty chair, McElhaney, empty chair, and President Grey.
From left to right: Father Cuenin, empty chair, empty chair, Director McElhaney, empty chair, and President Grey.

Student Union President Jason Grey and Director of Community Development Ryan McElhaney held a sparsely attended open commemorative forum for 9/11 Thursday in order to “commemorate, reflect, and remember the lives lost” seven years ago in New York City. Grey and McElhaney invited Father Walter Cuenin, Catholic chaplain at Brandeis, to moderate the discussion. We attendees sat in a small circle of chairs in the Shapiro art gallery, and many of those chairs were empty. Out of the seventeen people who were there at some point or another, four of us were press.

The lonely space and prolonged silences caused the forum to spend a good deal of time on its own importance. That people should be there. That 9/11 was significant. We talked about the way the attacks changed our perception of the world and the United States’ place in it. We talked about the emotional impact the sudden loss of life can have. We talked about how the attacks brought people together and wondered why the public had decided to stop remembering this year.

My thoughts after the cut.

I’d like to make a distinction between apathy and division of opportunity cost. People had clubs to go to; it was Thursday night. On a larger scale, many of my peers are putting their energy into new things, things that are more relevant to them seven years later, and things through which they feel they have agency. People remember September 11th as an awful reality that was unjustly made into an argument for more things that shouldn’t have happened. They know that day was a tragedy that altered them and the world, but time has passed, and they’ve moved on to SEA meetings and anti-JRC rallies. And why shouldn’t they? There’s real opportunity in attempting justice and sustainability on a local scale. Local action, too, could be the lingering effects of 9/11 and surrounding events shocking my generation into their awareness and passion for righting wrongs.

For me, then, the lingering question at the forum was why America should continue to spend its opportunity cost on 9/11. The forum, as a whole, never seriously explored how the public can channel old feelings into productive and preventative measures instead of repeating ad infinitum that yes, we shall remember this event. It made the discussion have an incomplete quality to it. This was excruciating, since right before the forum adjourned there was an argument over whether it was appropriate to analyze how the United States government could have been indirectly responsible for 9/11, could have prevented it, and can still prevent further tragedy.

It was decided that this was too insensitive, that it overshadowed the deaths of these people, who were deemed patriots and martyrs because of their unwilling sacrifice, and that there are 364 other days in the year in which to talk about causes.

I fail to see the insensitivity of it. I only see the necessity. If not on September 11th itself, when? What better way to honor the dead is there besides seriously discussing, in their name, how to prevent more senseless loss of life? Why not assert that unjust actions lead to more unjust actions and ask that our government would act justly?

If the forum hadn’t stifled this idea I would have felt as if it had a stronger purpose. I’m convinced that 9/11 continues to be, and will remain, one of the most important issues facing Americans. Not just because it was a sad event, but because no logical and just action has been taken by the United States government as of yet to account for the deaths of these people. Instead, the White House falsely lead the public by turning tragedy into political fodder, assigning blame in strategic and false entities. It was unjust when the suffering of Americans, God knows what kind of moral dilemma each individual had toward war, was used as an emotional crowbar to send more innocents to their deaths. It was unjust when Muslims, Sikhs, and other individuals who “looked like terrorists” faced violence and persecution in the name of those who died. It irks me that certain candidates continue to use 9/11 as a slogan to garner votes for themselves and their questionable policies. And it’s horrifying that the Americans slaughtered in the 9/11 attacks could have been saved if their government had only acted justly.

How could this discussion have possibly been inappropriate that day? Is it because we shouldn’t criticize our government in the shadow of tragedy? Why not, when it had failed their people? In examining the impetus behind these atrocities, it’s clear that the United States government could have prevented these deaths through exercising restraint in already unstable and angry parts of the world. It can prevent more deaths through real efforts in peacemaking. Remembering 9/11 has a distinct and important purpose for exactly this reason, yet the forum disallowed its analysis.

Thanks to Father Cuenin, President Grey, and Director McElhaney for organizing a very enlightening discussion. Though they created this event, I’m in no way criticizing them or any individual for what occurred there, since they attended and made the forum happen in the first place. Furthermore, the forum was a safe space, which means I can’t disclose anything that would jeopardize the confidential nature of the conversation. However, I would say that the conflicts generated during the discussion were general enough to repeat without attributing and violating anyone’s privacy.

Tell me your thoughts in the comments: 9/11, how appropriate/inappropriate I am, whatever.