Every society needs a cry like that, but only in a very few do they come out with the complete, unvarnished version, which is “Remember-The-Atrocity-Committed-Against-Us-Last-Time-That-Will-Excuse-The Atrocity-That-We’re-About-To-Commit-Today! And So On! Hurrah!”— THIEF OF TIME BY TERRY PRATCHETT
9/11 was, we can all agree, a tragic and horrible event. But we’ve stupidly allowed it to define us as a nation for the last fifteen years. We’ve never accepted it, we’ve never moved on, and we’ve never forgiven.
Because of those things, we’ve embarked on two wars, one of which was completely unnecessary and had nothing to do with 9/11, we engaged in torture, we continue to deny any trials or the like for people who we’ve held prisoner for almost 15 years, we’ve accepted massive limitations on our personal freedoms, and we’ve generally become a much smaller, nastier people.
It’s very important that we forgive everyone involved in the 9/11 tragedy. It’s important that we forgive George W Bush, whose arrogance and lack of attention created a situation where 9/11 could happen. It’s important that we forgive organizations like the FBI and the CIA, who failed to see this coming and couldn’t stop it.
But those are the easy things to forgive. We also have to forgive the hard stuff.
We have to forgive the terrorists who hijacked those planes and crashed them. These were men whose brains were marinated in a hate that was brought on by religious fervor and nurtured by their perception of American behaviors.
And hard though it is to accept, we, as a nation, have to forgive Osama bin Laden, a man who, despite what Obama and others like to say, was never “brought to justice”. Justice requires due process, and he never had that. Bin Laden was a terrible man who did terrible things, but its important that we forgive him that. And even that’s not the hardest bit of forgiveness we need to engage in.
We also need to forgive ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves, as a nation, for the crimes committed under our names. For the freedoms we once enjoyed and have denied future generations. For electing such incompetent leadership. For getting caught up in jingoistic enthusiasm. For all the bad choices we all made in the events leading up to 9/11 and for all the terrible things we’ve done, and allowed to happen, since then.
None of this is entirely easy, and the last two are especially hard. But it’s important that we do it. Forgiveness isn’t about the person who wronged you. It’s not about letting them off the hook, and saying, “Well, what’s past is past.” It’s not about letting them escape punishment for their crimes.
Forgiveness is about allowing yourself to move on. It’s about allowing yourself to heal, and to regain a focus on something other than that thing that was done to you by the other. It’s about accepting that something bad happened, but not letting it dominate your life forevermore. This is important as individuals, but it’s even more important on the national scale, especially when the nation in question is as powerful as ours.
There are certain steps we need to take to bring this about, of course, and one of those steps is that we need truth and reconciliation on certain things. We can’t entirely forgive the Bush administration for all the crimes committed by them on our behalf until we, to coin a phrase, bring them to justice.
But even without that, and without bin Laden around to ask for our forgiveness, and without the 19 hijackers able to face any kind of justice at all, we still need to find it in our hearts to forgive a move on. It’s to our benefit to do so.
As a last thought here, let me remind those of you who call yourselves Christian that Jesus was rather big on the subject of forgiveness. That I, an atheist, should have to remind so many of you to embrace that which you say you believe, should speak volumes as to how important this is.