Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, we are inundated with calls to never forget. There is also a standard narrative that this event served as a catalyst for national unity in a way “never seen before.” Yet, what were Americans uniting for? Following the 9/11 attacks, a massive banner reading “enemies of America beware” was unveiled atop a main street building in my hometown of Chapel Hill, N.C. This war-hawkish, bloodthirsty and destructive message is exactly the kind of excused product of increased so-called “unity.” In order to properly address these issues, not only must we take action to dismantle this ruinous nationalism, but this action must be rooted in an American realism, including the hypocrisy of the U.S.’s sprawling tendrils.
The subtext of these claims is that this unity is actually aimed towards invasion. Never forget, all but one representative voted for the invasion of Afghanistan following these attacks, and the surge of “Americanism,” which is often painted with a rosy light as much-needed harmony, was in fact a surge of nationalism, used to excuse rampant Islamophobia both at home and abroad. These sentiments, spurred by accompanying media responses, coincided with a rise in hate crimes against Muslims — from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 — which since then have never returned to, or even approached, pre-9/11 levels.
Even now, the common complaint that after withdrawing from Afghanistan we have “lost” trillions of military spending is a farce — Afghanistan essentially acted as a shell to funnel taxpayer money into the military-industrial complex, yielding ludicrous profit margins, with some reaching upwards of 4,400%, according to a House Oversight and Government Reform memo. Then we have the humanist interventionist, which of course begrudgingly demands our involvement on behalf of the rights of women and children. Yet, under our own occupation, the U.S. actively covered up the abuse and rape of women and children by the Afghani forces, according to Kyle Rempfer from the Military Times, the DOD Inspector General and the New York Times. Such is the delusion of the American when it comes to American interventionism.
Yet, for the majority of students here at Kenyon, we have only existed in this post-9/11 era. We never experienced this moment of pain and supposed unity firsthand, yet we have experienced the resulting impacts. The “otherism” that has taken hold of all mainstream discussion as it pertains to Islam and the Middle East feeds into our own American nationalism, serving purely as a destructive force. It has arrived at the point where American exceptionalism is a widely regarded and accepted fact among many, with the “other” not only viewed as viciously foreign, but primitive and capable only of violence. This has been the dominating theme when it comes to U.S. involvement in the Middle East: that the only language understood is force. No mention is made of the decades upon decades of Western interference within these regions, usurpation of democracies, seizing of resources and exploitation of entire peoples for our own profit margins.
Acknowledging the horrific acts and hypocrisy of the American empire is necessary, especially for those of our age operating in a post-9/11 era. With the media portraying Islam as a religion of hatred and Muslims almost exclusively seen as terrorists within pop culture — and even the news systematically dehumanizing and patronizing those in the Middle East — this era presumes an inherent nationalism and Islamophobia among its inhabitants. And to be clear, this blame is most clearly bipartisan, as these wars have been continued by presidents of both parties; even the liberal dialogue is rife with xenophobia and Orientalism, as Islam in America is widely associated exclusively with the Middle East. This rhetoric is actively harmful to the Muslims who live here, as it reinforces the narrative that they are lesser than, and it excuses the violent involvement of the U.S. abroad, justifying such action as “bringing order.” For those of us that have grown up in this era, it is all the more important for us to actively fight against this narrative, both for our neighbors and fellow people across the world.
Guthrie Richardson ’25 is an undecided major from Chapel Hill, N.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.