by Levi Dayan
[originally published Fall 2019]
The events of September 11, 2001 seem like a lifetime ago. This is perhaps easy for me to say; considering I was only two at the time, the only memories I have of the day are stories my parents told me of the chaos surrounding what was supposed to be my first day of preschool. However, considering how fast the news cycles shift in this day and age, it’s almost rational to feel like 9/11 occurred in a different universe. Since then, the U.S. has entered and left Iraq, experienced the most dramatic economic downturn since the depression, and elected a black president. This is not even considering the events of the 2016 election and onward.
This is the context in which last week, on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, some people, conservative and liberal alike, have reminisced nostalgically on the brief period of unity that followed the tragedy. According to a recent CNN poll, Bush’s approval rating amongst Democrats is currently an infuriatingly high 54%. In all fairness, this period of unity is pretty staggering to think about in retrospect. According to Gallup, George W. Bush’s approval rating hit a high of 90% post 9/11, which sunk 56 points by the time he was out of office. American pride was everywhere in pop culture, from Will Ferrel flopping around in a star-spangled crop top and short shorts on SNL, to the now-defunct Mad Magazine showing Alfred E. Neuman’s tooth gap filled in with an American flag. As a kid, I remember scrolling through a giant Mad Magazine coffee table book and looking at all the covers over the years; seeing that cover amongst a list of covers that included a literal giant middle finger was striking to say the least. Perhaps most stupefying was New York City’s unification around mayor Rudy Giuliani, considering the city has practically turned despising its mayors into a pastime.
Taking all of this into account, it makes sense that many wish to return to this brief period of unity. America is currently in the midst of one of the most divisive periods in its history in which the president is so loathed that many question why they ever had pride in their country in the first place. We’re worlds away from post-9/11 unification, and if political leaders from both sides could come together and agree on something, wouldn’t that make everything a little easier?
Not quite. Analyzing 9/11 solely by looking at the reactions of politicians and media publications is misleading at best and negligent at worst. According to the FBI, the number of hate crimes against muslims skyrocketed from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001. The hatred extended beyond muslims; according to the Sikh Coalition, there were more than 300 hate crimes against sikhs in the first month following 9/11. A budding hatred for any religious group foreign to white normalcy was unleashed, and the death toll was devastating. As sad as it is, this information should not be shocking. Racism and hatred have been such common threads in American history that the eruption of white supremacist violence in that moment is not surprising. However, as someone who has long been desensitized to the horrifying realities of racism in America, I was still taken aback by these numbers. These hate crimes are completely absent in the media narrative of post-9/11 America. The unity that followed the tragedy was white unity, something dangerous in and of itself.
George W. Bush’s response to 9/11 had devastating consequences for the entire world, but for many Americans, his response is abbreviated to one line: “those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.” These remarks were made in his address to a joint session of Congress a week after the 9/11, and they are perhaps the reason (along with his occasional critiques of president Trump) that Bush currently enjoys such a high approval rating amongst democrats. However, actions speak louder than words. When taken at word alone, Trump has technically condemned white supremacy; this doesn’t change the fact that his actions are those of a white supremacist. After extending an olive branch to the muslim community, Bush then proceeded to yank it away, Lucy from Peanuts style, sending America plunging into endless warfare that, according to the Watson Institute, has yielded 244,124- 266,427 civilian casualties. There were obvious reasons for going to war, such as oil *cough* - I mean, “spreading democracy.” But when thinking back to what caused these wars, I think of a quote from General William Westmoreland regarding the Vietnam war: “life is cheap in the Orient.” That could easily be changed to sum up the Bush administration’s true feelings for muslim lives.
These numbers should paint a telling picture of what bipartisanship in America truly is. Bipartisanship may be inevitable in day-to-day life, and it certainly is in politics. There are moments when one has to work with someone they disagree with, and these moments can sometimes have benefits. In American life, and especially American politics, these benefits often leave out muslims, or anyone who isn’t white. The truth is that American bipartisanship is a sham., Blind, unconditional unity to any given country, especially America, can only lead to disaster. So, in the future, when you express a need to get along with the other side in the face of racial hatred, think about who your unity truly serves.