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Forget 9/11

Or, if you must, celebrate it on 5/2

Liel Leibovitz
September 12, 2011
At Ground Zero this morning.(Mike Segar-Pool/Getty Images)
At Ground Zero this morning.(Mike Segar-Pool/Getty Images)

I’ve been walking around with a funny feeling in my stomach. Each tinge of “We Remember” made me cringe. Each image of “Ten Years Later” made me irritable. It wasn’t until the weekend began, with its endless parade of pundits and canned, repetitive footage, that I felt free to admit it to myself: the tenth anniversary of 9/11 made me very angry.

As is often the case with inchoate rage, I needed my friends to help me focus. Thankfully, Todd Gitlin did. Having just returned from a visit to Serbia, he noted how that nation was still actively and passionately commemorating the Battle of Kosovo, in which the armies of the Turkish Sultan Murad I, despite heavy losses, subdued their opponents and turned many Serb principalities into Ottoman protectorates. That was in 1389.

Growing up in Israel, I saw this foul force at play on both ends of the conflict. My Palestinian friends were commemorating the Nakba—the establishment of the state of Israel—and my Israeli friends were traveling to Poland, eagerly visiting the fields where their ancestors were shot, gassed, burned, and buried. I joined one such delegation, and was appalled not so much by the ominous piles of shoes and the ghoulish photographs—I’d seen these before—but by the particularly potent combination of humiliation and nationalism. In the barracks of Auschwitz, many of my classmates were reborn: They wrapped themselves in Israeli flags, spoke a bit too loudly to every Polish bystander, sang “Hatikvah” until they were hoarse, and vowed to join the army’s most elite units. In their young and impressionable tongues, “Never Again” sounded like, “Again, but with us winning this time.” Which is no different from the defiant annual demonstrations on Nakba Day.

And now, a defeat of America’s own. Those who lost loved ones, of course, will never forget that day, nor would any of us who were here that morning. Let survivors and New Yorkers continue to mark the day in a communal, painful, and deeply personal way, alone and together. But collectively, nationally, for our own good, let us forget all about it. No more ceremonies, no more anniversaries, no more solemn newscasters retelling, like in a dream, the moment of terror and defeat.

If we have to commemorate 9/11, let us do so on 5/2, the day our cheerful emissaries dispatched Osama Bin Laden to another state of being. Let us celebrate each May the Second; we can chant “U.S.A!,” bump fists, listen to loud rock music. It’ll be a joyful occasion. And oddly, for all of its bravado and machismo, such a celebration is much less likely to lead to catastrophe. The strange, inverted logic of tragedy’s aftermath dictates that commemorating defeat usually leads to revenge and violence, while celebrating victory usually involves barbecues and fifteen percent off at the mall. We must choose the latter. Otherwise, really, the terrorists win.

Speechless in the Face of Massacre [Chronicle of Higher Education Brainstorm]

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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