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9/11 Film Series: Osama

The 9/11 Film Series continued tonight with Osama.

In the past few days I’ve heard a lot of people saying things like “We will never forget” about the events of September 11th, 2001. While remembering is important, what we remember and how we remember are also important. In the book 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration, David Simpson writes that the September 11th attack “has been widely presented as an interruption of the deep rhythms of cultural time, a cataclysm simply erasing what was there rather than evolving from anything already in place, and threatening a yet more monstrous future. It appeared as an unforeseen eruption across the path of a history commonly deemed rooted in a complacent steady-state progressivism.” To put that more simply, what Simpson means is that in most people’s minds, 9/11 does not have a precedent or a context. It is viewed as a freak event.

When we think of 9/11 we also tend to imagine it as an American event. That’s understandable since it did after all take place on American soil and most of the victims were American citizens. And as a result of that perception, 9/11 is understood not only as an attack on New York and DC but as an attack on all of us. And in the weeks and months that followed 9/11 there was a terrific sense of unity among the American people. However, that unity was limited. There was also a steep rise in hate crimes and harassment of the Muslim community or of people who fit some kind of general, broad profile.

When a group of people are attacked, they tend to circle the wagons and everyone inside the circle is considered an ally, no matter what divisions and rivalries existed previously, and those outside the circle are viewed with suspicion if not outright antagonism. That has serious consequences because the wartime mentality makes empathy for those outside of our circle increasingly difficult. After 9/11, this dualistic mindset took hold among the general American public who were traumatized by the attack but it also threatened to isolate the Muslim community if they feel persecuted and ostracized. And in that case dialogue goes down and tension goes up. This is where a film like Osama becomes so important.

I heard a wonderful quote from (of all sources) last summer’s action movie Captain America in which Stanley Tucci’s character says, “People forget the first country the Nazi’s invaded was their own.” I think that’s a great phrase because it makes a distinction between Nazism, which is a specific ideology and political movement, and the German people.

Similarly, we could say that the first people attacked by groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban were other Muslims. And if we think of 9/11 not just as an American event or as a historical aberration but as an outgrowth of ongoing and shared history between cultures, we find that the victims and survivors of Osama aren’t that different from the victims and survivors of United 93. And in that case maybe the first victims of 9/11 were not in New York but in Kabul.

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