20 Years After 9-11: The Suffering Competition Continues

I was going to write something new about the 20th anniversary of 9-11, but what I wrote 5 years ago, slightly sensationalist though it may have been, still feels more worth restating than joining the 80 other people this week just writing about the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

The 1520th anniversary of the 2001-9-11 terrorist attacks just passed, and with it came a wide variety of online opinions. I do not want to talk about 9-11—thousands have already said everything I would have to say. Instead, I want to address the variety of comments I have seen regarding the attacks of 1520 years ago.

First, and most importantly, suffering is not a competition.

Everyone who was injured or killed in the plane crashes or in or around the World Trade Center and Pentagon obviously suffered. Their friends and families suffered. Nothing can undo what they endured and continue to endure.

Additionally, people across the country and even around the world were profoundly affected by the attacks and what they were intended to symbolize. Obviously that cannot compare to losing a loved one, but that does not mean it is not valid or should be ignored.

Furthermore, to this day, scores of innocent Muslims are attacked or murdered every year because they look like the people who attacked us on 9-11. Even non-Muslims who happen to have head coverings, darker skin, or even just beards, are often attacked for looking too similar to the people who attacked us. Is that suffering inherently more important than the suffering of the people killed in the 9-11 attacks or their families and friends? Not necessarily, but that does not mean it is less valid—or should be ignored. No number of dead Muslims is going to undo their suffering. It is just going to cause more suffering, it helps terrorists spread the line that America hates Muslims. Attacking people for being different in some way is supposed to be their MO, not ours.

Additionally, since the 9-11 attacks, we have started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we successfully captured or killed Osama bin Laden and several other “high-value targets”. Personally, I would consider that a good thing. But I can approve of stopping the people behind the 9-11 attacks while still recognizing the innocent civilians who suffered because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Preventing terrorist leaders launching future attacks is good, but it is also important to remember that civilian casualties and refugees are a part of war, and when we enter into a new war, we know innocent families are going to be torn apart. The argument is not that their suffering is more important than the suffering of the people killed in the 9-11 attacks or their families and friends, but that it should be no less valid, let alone ignored. As anyone affected by the 9-11 attacks can tell you, few things are more terrifying than having your life turned upside-down by a surprise attack from a power an ocean away.

My point is not that we should forget the attacks of 2001-9-11, or that we should stop opposing terrorism. My point is we need to stop arguing about who is suffering more and who needs to pay for it, as though that can accomplish anything. We need to be better than the terrorists who wanted to ignite waves of fear and hate.

Because when I remember 9-11, I remember those dead men are still winning.