In the ten years since 2001, every September has brought with it calls to remember the attacks of September 11. This week, a ten-year anniversary and the completion of memorials in New York and elsewhere have inspired a swell of such calls. Standing out this year, however, have been petitions to, in the words of Jeremy Walton, “remember differently.”
Reflecting in The Revealer on the prevalence of “9/11 fatigue” in New York City, Walton admits that “9/11 fatigue is fully comprehensible.” But he disagrees with such critics as David Rieff, who recently argued in Harper’s that “if the option of forgetting were seen as at least as available as the duty of remembrance, then the peace that must come eventually might actually come sooner.” While acknowledging that “hegemonies of remembrance, especially those that now inscribe 9/11 on the collective American memory, demand interrogation,” Walton asks, “is the antithetical strategy of forgetting the most effective weapon against these hegemonies?” Walton ultimately explains:
So, yes, I’m tired of 9/11. Exhausted by it. But this fatigue should not constitute the alibi for indifference, solipsism, or cynicism. We cannot forget 9/11, certainly not yet, probably not in any of our lifetimes. Nor should we. We can, however, remember 9/11 differently. Indeed, we must.
The stories on this week’s This American Life, “Ten Years In,” provide poignant encounters with people who have experienced and remembered 9/11 differently, but not always in ways that they have chosen or desired. By presenting stories about people who, as Ira Glass explains, “found their lives drastically altered by 9/11,” the broadcast reminds us that memories and experiences are not entirely ours to make.
“Who are the commemorations for?,” Ira Glass asks a woman who escaped the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks. Frustrated with the spectacle of the tenth anniversary commemorations, the survivor answers, “I don’t know.” Toward the end of the broadcast, listeners hear about a suburban Muslim family who found that 9/11 itself had virtually no influence on how their neighbors and classmates treated them. Those relationships changed for the worse, however, beginning on the first anniversary of the attacks, when the public call to remember led a teacher at the eldest daughter’s school to explain the attacks by passing around a book that blamed Islam. Remembering that day at school, the eldest daughter explains,
There were some pictures of Muslim ladies wearing the Muslim headscarf, hijab. And some of [the students] said, “Hey, those weird ladies, her mom’s one of them. And they all just looked at me and said, ‘You’re one of those bad Muslims, aren’t you?'”
Jeremy Walton fears that if we do not challenge ourselves and others to remember 9/11 differently, “the monolith of ‘9/11’ will inexorably silence other stories.” The need for This American Life to dedicate an entire episode to those other stories illustrates that the monolith continues, for now, to silence. Perhaps in a year, or ten more, 9/11 will be remembered differently.
Read Walton’s piece here. This week’s This American Life is here. After listening to the broadcast, you might read Peter Manseau’s recent piece for the SSRC’s new Frequencies initiative, in which Manseau reflects upon the sonic liturgy of empathy and the “Driveway Moments” that orient This American Life, particularly in episodes like “Ten Years In.”