I turned on the radio this morning and heard a speaker at the 9/11 commemoration intoning "...They killed our citizens, but they could not kill our citizenship." No, I thought, we did that to ourselves.
We killed our citizenship by accepting without question the lies we were told about what had happened. Saddam Hussein was responsible. There were weapons of mass destruction just waiting to be deployed against us. And so we allowed our young men and women to be sent to invade a country which had done nothing to harm us and there we killed thousands of innocents among its citizens. Many more than the terrorists killed on 9/11.
We killed our citizenship by allowing the suspension of civil liberties and by denying that basic human rights applied to our enemies. And so we closed our eyes and ears while torture was committed in our name. We looked the other way while people were thrown into secret prisons and denied legal representation or visits from human rights groups. We continued to look the other way while they languished there for years.
We killed our citizenship with divisive religious sectarianism in our own country. Suddenly, anyone who was not ostentatiously Christian and who did not spout (carefully selected) quotations from the Christian Bible was our enemy and was suspected of being a terrorist. And if that person had brown skin and wore clothes that seemed strange to us, then, case closed! He was a terrorist and had no rights. And God forbid (literally!) that anyone of non-Christian belief should attempt to practice his/her faith or build a house of worship in this country!
We killed our citizenship by turning against our roots. We are a nation of immigrants. Receiving migrants from other countries has always be our strength, but suddenly we want to slam the doors shut. No entry allowed. English only spoken here.
We killed our citizenship by allowing the government to listen in on our conversations, to read our mail, to track our travels, to monitor, using Big Brother techniques that even George Orwell never envisioned, our everyday lives. We have, virtually without protest, given up our right to privacy. In our desire to be secure, we have forfeited our right to be free. But it is all in vain, because the truth is it is a dangerous world and there are people who want to kill us. We can never be one hundred percent secure, but surely we can choose to live with courage.
There will be a lot of speakers and writers patting us all collectively on the back today and assuring us that we have persevered and kept our country's identity intact. Sadly, I think they are wrong. This country has changed in the last ten years and not for the better. It is not the vibrant, strong, forward-looking country that I grew up in. It is a country that in so many ways has turned in upon itself. It is something that has been particularly painful to see for those of us who can remember the past.
I remember that day 10 years ago. I was at work. I arrived at work at 7:00 those days and turned on my radio to NPR's "Morning Edition" where Bob Edwards still held sway. The sky outside my office window was a cloudless and brilliant blue. There was a touch of fall in the air. It was a beautiful day and a normal day of news as Edwards introduced stories and did his interviews.
And then, just before 8:00, Edwards' voice suddenly took on a new timbre - one of tension and incredulity. And nothing was ever the same again.