The Wingnutteria, led by John Boehner and Sarah Palin, has decided that they oppose trying 9/11 co-conspirator Khalid Shaik Mohammed, apparently on the grounds that
anything that happens under Obama, including the birth of puppies and kittens from rainbows, is evil they think a bunch of New Yorkers are eager to let the man go free. I’ve seen many excellent theories as to why they’re freaking out this way: they’re sniveling cowards, they secretly believe that unhinged rants about how America deserves to burn because we’re decadent and immoral will be persuasive, they think New Yorkers enjoy having major terrorist attacks traumatize the whole city.
But I have a different theory. I suspect that the Wingnutteria simply forgot what KSM is on trial for. Oh sure, they could probably cough up “9/11”, but I’m not sure they really grasp what that means anymore. Most of them probably assume that he’s on trial for being a generic Scary Muslim, and they don’t trust a New York jury to convict someone for what is technically not a crime. Because any rational person, when faced with both the memory of 9/11 (and New Yorkers especially will never be able to scrub that one completely) and the unrepentant man who caused it, will have no problem convicting.
Here’s why I think they’ve completely forgotten what really happened on September 11, 2001, despite their cries of “Never Forget!”:
*It’s been more than 8 years. Children born after it happened are entering the second grade right now. Kids in college were in elementary school when it happened. Destiny’s Child was still together, and Creed was still a hit factory. This trial should have happened a long time ago, but the Bush administration deliberately delayed dealing with it. Over 8 years, it’s easy to forget a major American tragedy like this, especially if it hasn’t seemed real to you in a long time—or worse, it never seemed real to you. Which, I’m prepared to argue, is largely the case with the Wingnutteria.
*They kind of think it was a Michael Bay movie in the first place. It all happened on TV, giving it that hyper-real feel that made it hard, even for those of us whose minds aren’t bent by Fox News, really feel the reality of the situation. On the day of the attacks, the reality of it seeped through the hyper-reality, but in the days following, the media made sure that didn’t happen. In part, that was by rewriting the events so they fit into our preconceived narratives, and generally putting the TV gloss of make-up and lighting over the survivors so that they seemed to be no different than someone getting interviewed because she wrote a cookbook. I’m not entirely sure I blame the mainstream media for this—they are ill-equipped to handle tragedies of this magnitude, but that’s the point. None of us are equipped to handle tragedies of this magnitude. George Bush also plays a role in this, because he put on a costume and acted out his part like he was in a movie.
*In the years since, “9/11” has turned into a shorthand for patriotic kitsch for the Wingnutteria, and doesn’t describe a horrific mass murder. For the flag-waving wingnut set, 9/11 brings to mind commemorative plates and coins, paintings of crying bald eagles, and the background noise for torture porn like “24”. There are many layers of kitsch and meaning between the phrase and the memory of the World Trade Centers collapsing (much less a plane hitting the Pentagon).
*The Iraq War distorted the issue. Since Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but because it became the linchpin of the wingnut revenge response, it became easier for war supporters to simply forget about 9/11 as being a real criminal plot to mass murder, and think of it simply as a rallying cry. How do you convict a rallying cry? How do you even try it?
*They don’t really think New York City is real. Like Atrios noted when the teabaggers complained that the Metro in DC works like a subway and not like monorail at Disneyland, “This is also about people not from cities seeing cities – especially DC – as big urban theme parks.” And if DC is a big urban theme park, New York suffers from that image even more. Most of the people lapping up Boehner and Palin’s incoherent nonsense don’t think of New York City as a place where people live and work, but as a big (if somewhat dirty) theme park with attractions like Broadway shows, Times Square, and excellent shopping. The World Trade Center doesn’t mean much to them now; what’s important is “Ground Zero”, a memorial that they imagine was built to honor their own wounded sense of self-righteous patriotism. If you don’t think of New York City as completely real, then of course it’s easy to make the leap into thinking that a New York jury would do fantastical things, like let Khalid Shaik Mohammed go free, or take him seriously as an intellectual person.
And in a sense, the wingnut response to 9/11 makes sense. 9/11 was surreal enough, and watching it from a distance, it was hard to avoid the yawning trap of hyper-reality. On the day itself, the distance and the TV-contained aspects of it were frustrating, because it distorted your emotional reaction to the events, making you feel angry and scared but also passive and distant. But by even 9/12, I could tell that Americans were using the media-created distance and ability to control the narrative to push the events away, to avoid dealing with them honestly. It was easier to wave a flag and indulge in soft focus interviews with people whose make-up added to the unreality of it all. The more TV I watched, the less I felt I understood, so I flipped it off. But I don’t imagine that was a typical reaction, and people like Boehner and Palin are pandering to the distorted, kitschy feelings that have developed about 9/11 in the years since.
But honestly, it takes a special kind of fucked-up to go to the next level and think that we have anything to fear by trying KSM in a federal court. That’s distorted thinking beyond all measurement.