Earlier this year, I had the privilege of visiting the National September 11th Memorial. The museum opened in late 2011, and is built on the World Trade Center site, the former location of the Twin Towers, which were destroyed during the September 11th attacks. The museum architects strove to preserve what was remaining of the wreckage after 9/11, and many of the original architectural structure of the building, such as the survivor staircase, are still remaining. Central to the museum was an enormous exhibition art piece shaped like a cube, with another inner cube. When entering, visitors can see, projected on the vast walls, the faces of the almost 3,000 who died. In the inner cube, visitors can sit and listen to each of the stories of the lives of the victims narrated by a loved one. The 9/11 memorial museum inspires, even honors, a very public grieving (the museum is free to law enforcement and the families of those who passed in the attacks). It pushes to keep the 9/11 attacks as a part of the present, unable to be forgotten. The victims of the attacks are meticulously humanized, their stories given the privilege of being grounded into the American historical canon. Most importantly, they are given dignity in death.
Certain “other” bodies, usually black and brown bodies, are treated as ahistorical beings, not afforded humanity by the media and therefore by the world: victims of intervention by the US overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen, for example; victims of terrorism by ISIS such as the very recent attacks in Lebanon. These black and brown bodies are already lifeless corpses in the eyes of Western media and are therefore ghosts in Western imagination; meanwhile, the victims of the 9/11 attack and other acts of terrorism in the West (recent happenings in France, Charlie Hebdo, etc.) are humanized, still not seen as part of the past but of the present, still allowed the honor of mourning.
In this paper, I seek to question why we choose certain bodies and narratives as deserving of the label of humanity.
The fact remains that less than two percent of terrorist attacks from 2009 to 2013 in the European Union were religiously motivated. Studies shows that the vast majority of terrorist attacks were motivated by ethno-nationalism or separatism. However, those attacks are not the ones that are given immediate and racialized attention by the media. When attacks happen by Muslim extremist groups, the American right wing is quick to demonize all Muslims and Muslim refugees. Meanwhile, there are not enough people questioning what these refugees are fleeing. The US has directly contributed to the violence overseas that has led to the influx of refugees.
- Could also add the regulation of information about US/Western terrorism
- Example: pushback against the release of the photographs of Abu Ghraib victims speaks to regulation
- American right wing feared that it would be “un-American” to allow the photos to be released to the American public
- We were not allowed to see the evidence of the torture that the US committed
The creation of the US by the media as the only victim of terrorism, when the exact opposite is true, contributes to the illusion of innocence and the humanization of the West as a whole. The humanization of the white West comes with the consequence of the dehumanization of black and brown bodies.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, contributing writer David A. Graham examines the relationship between the media and two of the violent attacks from this past week. He muses about the idea that when Americans hear “Beirut,” they immediately cluster it amongst the rest of the Middle East and associate it with violence. So if news networks were to dedicate as much importance to Lebanon as they did to Paris, there would not be as much readership of the news. He states: “There is a troubling tribal, or racial component to familiarity: People tend to perk up when they see themselves in the victims.”
- How can we explore the deeper, underlying issues of orientalism that allow the West to separate itself in body and therefore humanity with the East?
- Why would certain bodies inspire grief while others do not?
- How can we tie in “consciousness raising” as Evans describes it, and treat it as a tactic for humanizing?
- How can we build alternatives for the future with an issue this large, and use the concept of consciousness raising to do so?