9/11, History, Culture, and New Media


One could approach the question of Donald Trump’s claim to have seen TV coverage of thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating on 9/11/2001 from multiple angles.  While not a Donald Trump supporter, myself, the chords of my media cynicism have been hit: When a progressive Democrat (like President Obama) says something that isn’t wholly true, the story and the fact check become whether there’s any sense in which it is somewhat true.  When a conservative or a Republican says something that isn’t wholly true, the story and the fact check concern themselves with whether the statement is true in every particular.

Far more important, though, is what has happened to our culture and our public discourse — not only the ideological polarization, but the sense of proof.  On the first point, the sides pick a witness and suspect those with contrary statements.  Do eye witnesses in Paterson, New Jersey, insist that they saw celebrating Muslims?  Well, here’s a police officer who claims otherwise.  One side notes that a high-ranking officer in a city’s police department might have ulterior motives (either political or because his officers must deal with the local population), while the other side insinuates that eye witnesses can’t be telling the truth.

The matter brings to mind G.K. Chesterton’s argument for why those who disbelieve in the reality of miracles are actually the ones adhering to dogma:

The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both.

Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story.

Generally speaking, dogmatists are on all sides, of course.  There are some for whom evidence that a single Muslim in America managed to crack a smile on 9/11/01 would stand as evidence for Trump’s claim.  There are others (more, I’d wager) who will deny the existence of any jihadi sympathizers within our nation’s Islamic communities unless there’s a mainstream news video showing massive hidden celebrations in mosques across the country.  As Mark Steyn and Ed Driscoll suggest, the idea that some not-insignificant number of people in New Jersey joined Muslims in other countries in an anti-American celebration is far less mindlessly dogmatic than insisting that the Islamic State has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.

This is a deeply intricate topic having to do with national security, culture, theology, and just about any broad category of human inquiry one might wish to consider.  And I fear our society’s most profound loss in recent decades has been its ability to absorb and process such complex matters.  That leaves us susceptible not only to grave error, but also to manipulation and subjugation.

We may find it difficult to believe, in our times, but there was an era not that long ago, historically speaking, in which, far from on-the-scene amateur videos posted instantly to a globally-available Internet, there was no way for anybody to record any incident at all.  No video.  No photograph.  No audio.  A record of an event meant that, after an incident, somebody went and wrote down what they had seen or described it to somebody who knew how to write.

Much subjectivity worked its way into accounts, no doubt, but so did much that was accurate, so accounts couldn’t be dismissed outright.  I worry that we’re reaching a point at which people believe that anything that isn’t incontrovertibly proven on video can be dismissed by default, even without concrete reason to dismiss it — just because it doesn’t fit the dogma.

Two moments of the nonstop news coverage that rolled through 9/11/01 and the following days stuck in my memory.  One was of a man jumping from the Twin Towers who held some kind of cloth over his head as if it would function as a parachute.  Almost faster than one could conclude that was what he was doing, he lost his grip on one side and plummeted.  I remember thinking how such a thing might be humorous in a movie, reflecting exactly the sort of thing I’d imagined trying as a boy looking out of NYC skyscraper windows.

The other was of a black woman looking up at the towers and sobbing.   “They’s jumping!” she cried.  And I thought how racial divisions would prove too petty to continue on in the post-9/11 world.

Well, in the final years of the Obama presidency, racial division is back in fashion.  Because 9/11 came before instant, democratized online video, and because the old-guard keepers of records have let much of that day’s experience slip into memory, I haven’t been able to find either of those moments and others that I remember so vividly.  If it were somehow to become convenient for an Ivy League cry-bully to deny they had ever existed, I would have nothing but my own testimony as evidence.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about our new social-media world and the upcoming generation that has never known anything else is the degree to which everything is conclusion first, evidence only as support.  Maybe this is behind the sheer madness that has been astonishing many of us recently.

Before we can come together, uniting and compromising, to figure out how our society should address an expanding threat of terrorism, we have to be able to acknowledge, on one side, that there are people within our own country who will either engage in attacks or support them and, on the other side, that it’s possible that such people are insignificant in number.  Somewhere in the middle is a reality that must then be integrated with our nation’s principles.

I’d humbly suggest that if we draw lines between each other based on the fact that a reality-TV presidential candidate is at the center of the argument, it won’t take very many enemies to harm us incalculably.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    My understanding from news coverage and commentary is that it is not denied that Muslims celebrated (it was reported contemporaneously in the Washington Post) there being existing video. The only argument seems to be whether there were Trump’s thousands or some lesser number. The video shows “dozens” but is not shot at angle where it could even record “hundreds”. My knowledge of the video is second hand.

    Consequently, since it cannot be denied in whole, the focus must be on the “thousands”. Did anyone know that Steve Jobs is of Syrian descent? Heard that on what seemed to be “news” today.

    • ShannonEntropy

      Did anyone know that Steve Jobs is of Syrian descent?

      And Hitler was a vegetarian and kind to animals.
      So what ??

      Just cuz one person of Syrian descent made good here ,, we should open up our borders and our Welfare Rolls to millions more of them ??

      That seems to be the implication of that “news” … which BTW Pro·Jo Idiot·In·Residence Mark Patinkin wrote a tear-jerking Immigrants-like-Jobs-make-America-great column about recently

      • Mike678

        Again, it’s a clash of cultures. One can not, I repeat, can not follow the Koran and live peaceably with other religions/cultures. It is not a “religion of peace” as our head-in-the-sand politicians like to preach. For those that believe it is, do some research on Kashmir, Paris, England, current insurgencies in the PI, the genocide of Catholics in Iraq and other mid-East countries, and so forth. Then please educate us where in the real world Muslims integrate peacefully into a region that contains other cultures/religions. Cherry-picked example–the Boston Bombers. How long did they live in the US before they started killing?

        • Rhett Hardwick

          I think it is all about who is driving the car. All religions, either explicitly, or implicitly, regard themselves as the “one true faith”. “Conversion by the sword” was long seen as offering salvation. For hundreds of years the Catholic church saw nothing wrong with that, now they are all about peace and tolerance. They also seem to be ignoring numerous biblical injunctions, such as the treatment of homosexuals. I have never seen a money changer “cast out of the temple”. I think it is the envy of the “have nots” of the “haves”, cloaked in religion. Does it matter, for now they are at our throats.

          • Mike678

            Did you actually bother to read the post? I think not, as you offered no answer but a flimsy excuse for the current butchery. What is your argument–that two wrongs make a right? That we should just wait patiently and everything will turn out OK? Turn the other cheek?
            If it was a simple matter of have vrs have nots, why don’t we see beheading and massive violence in India? The Philippines? Plenty of have/have nots there! Moreover, many of the Muslim fanatics are middle class–Osama Bin Laden was wealthy. Perhaps you should do a little research on the subject.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            My point is simple. I don’t think it is a religious war, but rather a war cloaked in religion. Sort of
            like the crusades.The Crusaders sought wealth and expansion by doing God’s work. The worker bees may in fact believe it to be religious. I think bin Laden simply hated the West. His wealth was not drawn from Arab sources, it was funded by Petro Dollars. The benefited always come to hate their benefactor. We have it, they don’t, so they want to take ours.

            “Turn the other cheek”? No, we are at war, but another war we don’t know how to fight. “War is the application of force, and to that force there is no limit” MacArthur. We killed hundreds of thousands as “collateral damage” in Dresden, now we quiver at the thought of destroying a hospital. Meanwhile they behead ours. Did anyone think of raising Bin Laden’s head on a pike? That is what you do in a religious war, ask the Mahdi.

          • Mike678

            Believe what you will..that is the strength of our culture…freedom. You will not have that option in theirs. By the way, you may want to research what prompted the crusades.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            Whatever prompted the Crusades, the Crusaders themselves (the important ones) were largely “second sons” in a society that favored primogeniture. They were seeking new land and wealth. The poor crusaders sought sustenance and pillage.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            Let us not forget that it was the Catholic’s decision to burn an entire village in the Langudoc section of France that contained some Christian “heretics” (Albigensian Crusade) that gave us the phrase “Kill them all, God will know his own”. Cloaking a war with religion makes all things possible to the believers.

          • Mike678

            So we are back to two wrongs make a right? Because some behaved badly hundreds of years ago it is justification for butchery today? Should the Irish butcher the English of today for the wrongs of the past? By you reasoning that might be justified. You can live in the past…your right and I support it. But our families live in the present.

            Have you thought about the original question? Educate us on the areas today where Muslims integrate and live peaceably with other cultures and regions. Perhaps you can ask the Coptic Christians for their thoughts. Or Ayann Hirsi Ali…the author of Heretic; why Islam needs a reformation now.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            I think you misunderstand me. We are at war, but I think it is in fact a “clash of cultures” cloaked in religion “the opiate of the masses”. I offered the example of the Catholics only to show how religions “morph” by choosing which precepts to follow. The Catholics were perfectly at ease with killing Muslims (also offering participants a place in heaven) and burning heretics, now they are a “religion of peace” and no one questions it. Has the Bible changed that much more than the Koran? There used to be an expression among British Arabists “A Muslim alone is no Muslim at all”. Meaning Westernized Arabs only “observe” when others are watching.

            As to living peaceably with neighbors, that is rarely the case with a “dominant” religion. Didn’t the Pope foment the Spanish Armada and send the “Inquisition” to accompany it? Wasn’t the Church behind Guy Fawkes “Gunpowder Plot”? Sorry to single out the Catholics, but it is the only major example we have in the West of politics and theology being mixed. I could mention the early Quakers denying civil rights to others in Pennsylvania. Ancient “national religions” frequently demanded human sacrifice. If Nazism and Communism are treated as “National Religions”, the “religious fervor” gave us a bloodbath which is almost incomprehensible. I have always wondered why only the Nazis are truly vilified.

            Happy Thanksgiving

          • Rhett Hardwick

            I will give you this, Islamic clerics ,may be fostering the terrorism because they fear a loss of power from “westernization”. We saw this before in the bloodbath which accompanied the “reformation”. It is difficult to say, as I understand it, Islam is “episcopal” in the sense that there is no single head of the religion.

            In California, I suppose the question is how do we separate those Muslim “terrorists” from their Ferrari and Lamboghinis Does Sharia prohibit speeding?

          • Mike678

            The challenge many Americans have is that they think like Americans–they unconsciously impose their values and standards on what they are viewing. Some Americans assume that everything revolves around us, thus America must have a central part in everything that occurs–so where did we go wrong?

            Perhaps it’s nor fear of the west that inspires clerics, but the desire of reward by their god for strict adherence to their faith? The human–and often male–desire for territory and power? Why do many Americans start with the assumption that the West/US are to blame?


            Finally, getting back to the main point–you have no examples where Muslims integrate and live peaceably with other cultures? If this is indeed true, please explain why anyone would want to import future violence into their culture.

          • Rhett Hardwick

            “Finally, getting back to the main point–you have no examples where Muslims integrate and live peaceably with other cultures? ”

            I have none such to offer. In fact I doubt it is truly possible until Islam becomes diluted in the way Christianity has. That is why I pointed out the Muslims racing about California in Ferraris, they are not waiting to reach paradise. I do feel compelled to point out that while there was only one brand of Christianity in the West, it did not allow integration of others. That is the nature of religion with secular power, that power will be exercised. With the current state of Christianity, it occurs to me that there is much in the saying “Christ says decide, Allah says submit”. A few hundred years ago, I don’t think adherents on either side would see a choice. I have wondered if it is more than coincidence that the Crusades were developed as an idea when Christianity was about 1200 years old, the approximate current age of Islam. Is 1200 years some sort of turning point for religions?

            Some years ago, I had two Muslim brothers as neighbors. They were quite worldly as to drinking and women. They did make frequent references to God, and were obviously substituting “God”: for “”Allah”. They seemed quite integrated other than their mother wearing a veil and washing her carpets on the lawn. After 9/11 they lost their security clearances and therefore their jobs. One committed suicide, I though that unfortunate.

          • Mike678

            Happy thanksgiving!

  • ShannonEntropy

    Trump did in fact see TV images crowds of Muslims cheering on 9 / 11 … they just weren’t in NJ … they were Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and Syrians in Damascus

    So he mis-read the vids’ captions but so what ?? The fact is that Muslims across the world DID celebrate 9 / 11 … and videos of them doing so are a dime a dozen =►