On this the ninth anniversary of the most traumatic event in recent memory I mourn the loss of 2996 of my fellow human beings (because not all of the victims of the 9/11 attacks were Americans). But more than that, I mourn the loss of perspective that those attacks seem to have brought about. What is it about those 2996 that makes them more worthy of reflection than, say, the 4418 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since 9/11? Or the (approximately) 400,000 people who died in highway accidents, of which 100,000 might still be alive today if we'd taken the money we have spent fighting the war on terrorism and used it instead to improve our infrastructure? Or the uncounted hundreds of thousands -- possibly over a million -- Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have died at our hands in the name of fighting terror? Or the uncounted tens of millions who die for lack of clean drinking water and basic medical care throughout the world on an ongoing basis?
That is, of course, a rhetorical question. It cannot be answered, because to do so would require one to face the horrible truth that not all men (women don't even enter the equation here) are created equal, and that by placing special emphasis on the victims of 9/11 we undermine the aphorisms that we Americans rely on for the moral authority to spread our influence around the planet. We are supposed to be fighting for freedom and equality, but both our actions and our rhetoric belie the fact that what we are really fighting for is the principle that American lives are worth more than non-American lives, and more particularly, that rich American lives are worth more than non-rich non-American lives. Because when 2996 people -- many of which were rich Americans -- die prematurely, that is cause for all manner of radical policy changes. But when 4418 American soldiers -- not a single one of whom was rich -- die prematurely that's just the cost of defending "freedom" (whatever that word might still mean in this era of ubiquitous surveillance and nearly unfettered government authority). And when hundreds of thousands of poor Iraqis die, or millions upon millions of poor Africans and east Asians die prematurely, that doesn't even register on the radar. Those lives matter so little that they are not even worth counting, which why no one actually knows how many Iraqis and Afghanis we have killed.
In the midst of all this carnage to which we Americans appear to be mostly blind, I am struck most of all by the spectacle of two little-known clerics who have been catapulted into the international spotlight not because they have done anything even remotely important, but simply because they have managed to offend a large enough number of people. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has become famous for offending Americans by daring to build a mosque on private property within walking distance of ground zero, and and Pastor Terry Jones has become famous for offending Muslims by threatening to burn Korans. And while both sides quibble over whose offense is more justified by God, people continue to die on the unsecured streets of Baghdad and Kabul, and on the unmaintained roads of the United States of America, and at contaminated wells and rivers throughout the world.
It is indeed a state of affairs worthy of mourning.