Speak Now by columnist Maddie Raymond: A 17-year-old’s views on 9/11



Published: 9/13/2021 9:00:48 AM

I didn’t exist during 9/11. I wasn’t even a figment in my mother’s imagination the day the plane hit the Twin Towers, and wouldn’t be for a while after. Yeah, I’m 17. I never knew a world without the War on Terror all over the news, or airport security that made us put all our carry-ons in little boxes to get X-rayed. I never knew a world where two little matchsticks were a normal part of the New York City skyline.

But all the Middle Eastern kids my age had it worse, being unable to remember a world — an America — where they would not be stared down and persecuted by angry white folks who somehow got it in their minds that they were potential terrorists. To me, 9/11 is the specter in the corner, an event that I wasn’t around for but set the trajectory that led to the world I live in now, and the mess I’m just starting to dig into.

Most of us know from reading the news that the United States recently pulled out of Afghanistan. The void was quickly filled by Taliban forces, who are now inflicting their own forms of violence on the Afghan people. But what some of us may not know is those horrors we’re hearing about are mostly our fault.

After 9/11, the U.S. entered Afghanistan, supposedly to topple Al-Qaeda, which had launched the attacks. But you see, Afghanistan is right in the middle of the area with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and all the other Middle Eastern nations rich with oil fields that the U.S. and its Western allies have been exploiting for their fossil fuel energy needs for nearly a century.

I certainly don’t mean to make light of the tragedy that was 9/11. Many human lives were lost that day, and my heart goes out to all the families that must now experience the 20th year of their loved one’s absence. But my heart also goes out to every Afghan who has lost family members to the 20 years of Western-sanctioned violence following the invasion. My heart goes out to every Middle Eastern person who has endured violence due to the perpetuation of racist stereotypes boosted by those September attacks.

But kind thoughts won’t fix this. Action will.

So, I’m reaching out to us White folks. For the ones who watched that tragedy unfold on Sept. 11, 2001, and wondered what they could do to ease the suffering, I’m telling you that it’s not too late. The Middle East is still undergoing the same imperialist violence from the West as it was 20 years ago.

Open your purse if you can, and redistribute funds to organizations on the ground helping Afghans and other Middle Eastern people endure this violence. Give to organizations on the ground like Help Afghans Now, or send funds directly to GoFundMes helping specific individuals. Stay away from NGOs, or pressuring the government to send more military personnel, as those actions contributed much to the problem in the first place.

I get that this might not seem like your fight. After all, I wasn’t even alive for the event that started it all. But we can’t gatekeep in this effort, as people are suffering regardless.

We look at the Middle East with sympathy, feeling for the people but always grateful it’s not us “over there.” We might get the idea that it’s normal for them. I know I’ve thought that before. But they’re just regular people, with schools and jobs and birthdays who happened to be born somewhere that the West loves to feast upon.

Twenty years after our airplanes and television screens changed forever, I urge you all to reflect upon your position in this ongoing conflict. Act not because you pity the people there, but because you recognize their humanity. If circumstances had been different, you could have been in their spot.

Despite the justification for Western violence and trauma porn you’ll likely see in the news cycle, we have to remember that the people of the Middle East are made up of vibrant, enduring cultures, filled with just as much nuance, knowledge and richness as any other.

We cannot take back what happened on 9/11, nor can we rescind all the domestic and international violence in the War on Terror that followed. But we can do something to make sure that the violence there ends now, and that the people of the Middle East and their worldwide diaspora can be allowed space to breathe and heal from the decades of struggle the West has put them through.

Maddie Raymond, who writes a monthly column, lives in the hilltowns.


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