Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Orwellian Freedom Tower. Or: there is a tale that the island people tell...
I turned CNN on the other morning. The people who tend to adopt the viewpoint that "MSNBC is left-wing, FOX is right-wing, therefore objectively reporting means listening to both sides and declaring it a tie". And the other morning they had extensive reporting on "Octomom". I'll save you some time:
1) Her mortgage is in trouble. But that's OK, because "a lot of people are in [this sort of] trouble now". So don't let the latest update on the status of her mortgage bother you.
2) Some people criticize her for having so many children.
3) She "defends herself" against such accusations. She does not appreciate them one bit because they don't know her!
4) There was spilled paint. This paint was spilled by one of her sons, and is not indicative of disrepair which is contrary to what some people said. People need to get off her back because they don't know her!
So, you know, important stuff.
Then they talked to great length about the fact that some people were offended by a speech in a high school. It's all very important and not transitory drama at all. Journalism is alive and well.
They also mentioned the "Freedom Tower". It's the tower that was erected in response to the 9/11 attacks, the wikipedia page tells me that its real name is "One World Trade Center" and that Freedom Tower was its previous name. That's all just background detail, I want to focus on the rationale behind naming it and referring to it as the Freedom Tower even if its official name has been changed.
It bothered me. It took me awhile to figure out exactly why. Then it hit me: they're implying that the 9/11 attacks were attacks on the concept of freedom. Put another way: the 9/11 attacks were motivated by a hatred of freedom. Well, OK, I knew that realization still bothered me but I couldn't figure out exactly why.
What's wrong with characterizing the terror attacks that way? Doesn't Al-Qaeda want to restrict freedom? Aren't they opposed to many of the things that the United States enjoys? Democracy, a secular government (contrary to a wonderfully ignorant poster I saw the other idea which used the ceremonials deist phrase "One Nation Under God" as an argument that *of course* America is a Christian nation designed to be governed according my denomination's interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament of the Christian Bible except for the bits I don't like, but definitely include the bits we do, and let's add some more and pretend it has some passages about the relations of particular clumps of cells to the concept of personhood - *it's so self evident that our money says so!* But, sigh, I digress), free speech (including both words and actions), and so on. Clearly Al-Qaeda is against all these things, and hates freedom!
Well, if you pay attention to my off-topic rants then you can see where I'm going with this. Al-Qaeda hates freedom, sure. But that isn't what drives religious (using that term instead of the more specific Islamic or Fundamental Islamic helps highlight what I'm trying to say) terrorism is righteousness. A love for righteousness and a desire to please God. Their search for righteousness leads them to believe that the best way to show your devotion to God is to use the government to force everyone adheres to the rules God has given us.
That understanding is somewhat unsettling. But, like so many things, it's the only conclusion I can reach which doesn't leave me with unbearable cognitive dissonance.
That's why it bothered me to hear CNN refer to the Freedom Tower more than it bothered me to hear them report on inane drama-inducing pop culture trivia. I can hear the latter all day long and let it go in one ear and out the other. But when I heard the former something struck in my head, like a mental reflex. I didn't know the precise cause but I knew there was one.
By naming it the Freedom Tower we're using Orwellian language to misrepresent reality. We're framing the issue as something which is easy to swallow: foreign garbed people following a bizarre religion with bizarre customs (AKA outsiders) hate our freedom! In reality, the problem is much closer to our culture. People are willing to hurt others in their search for righteousness. They're willing to do this in ways that seem bizarre to outside observers. It can take the form of blowing up a building. It can take the general form of misrepresentation and ignorance and dogmatic belief concerning abortion or contraception. It can take the specific form of the Catholic Church lying to ignorant Africans and instructing them that condom use increases AIDS transmission. It can take the specific form of a recent Arizona law declaring that every woman who is potentially pregnant (that is: not menstruating or what normal people call "pregnant") will be retroactively declared pregnant.
It takes all sorts of forms. But whether we like it or not, whether we hear all of this and think "well, yeah, because their theology is wrong - that's the problem!" the same thing that motivated the 9/11 attacks is alive and prosperous in our own society. As I said, that can be a bit unsettling. It's certainly more difficult than thinking "9/11 happened because The Outsiders hate freedom!", but I think it's true. And unless we acknowledge this fundamental fact then we'll never be able to have a constructive discussion on how to move on from 9/11.
It's easy to be right in hindsight, but I think this misunderstanding was one of the many factors leading to invading and occupying two predominantly Muslim countries. We as a nation were forced to hold two beliefs: Muslims were responsible for 9/11 because the Quran advocates it, and also Muslims were not responsible for 9/11 because the Quran doesn't advocate it. Many people took the former belief because it's easier. But the truth is neither of those things; the truth is more complicated.
I think it deserves an honest discussion which we can't have as long as we do things like have Freedom Towers. Using that Orwellian language obfuscates (Yes Franklin and Bash, it is a real word) the issue and renders honest conversation impossible. That bothers me.