9/11 was an act of folly, but madness – and the ancients knew this – serves to disclose what has been hidden and needs to be revealed. It was not an act of isolated folly; Bin Laden is said to have hated the United States from the moment when, as a boy, he learned of Hiroshima. Yet in his address to Congress, George W. Bush stated ‘they hate our freedoms’ – a phrase that sought to explain everything and was readily embraced by the government, the public, and the press. I propose that 9/11’s failure to initiate a national inquiry and debate about our foreign – and for that matter domestic – policy is rooted not only in our profound sense of entitlement, and, until then, a belief in a God-given invincibility, but racism and sexual anger. Born of genocide and slavery, our democracy staggers beneath a failure to acknowledge and address its own defining brutal impulse. In fact, we had long betrayed freedom’s marvellous promise, and have, perhaps irretrievably, contaminated that promise. In other words, we were not betrayed by Bush, but already complicit in his lies. The questions that needed to be asked were voiced by only a few, who were tagged as neurotic, unpatriotic, and ignored.

In the same speech, Bush assured ‘this will not be an age of terror’. Yet our government’s response was to set a city on fire, and within weeks, survivors of ‘shock and awe’, children among them, were rounded up in the streets and taken to Abu Ghraib – a mirror of our own prisons in which sexual abuse is rampant. Currently, our prison population exceeds two million; sixty per cent are of racial and ethnic minorities.

I would suggest that ours is a democracy undone by a chronic fear and loathing of the body, our own bodies and the bodies of strangers; perhaps it could be said that the body in our land is always a stranger, abused not only in our prisons, but evident in our irrational terror of health care, our willingness to allow the food industry to poison us, our fear of a woman’s right to choose, gay rights, and so on – tendencies now acutely in evidence with the success of the sanctimonious Tea Party, and the far right’s inability to accept the legitimacy of a black president.

Eros was brought down in Baghdad – Eros in its many forms: the gardens, the museums, a library reduced to ashes. Among so much lost to us forever were tablets many thousands of years old, unexamined, belonging to that most ancient of stories: Gilgamesh, a story in which our own cultural heritage, including the Bible, is rooted. I suggest a pattern here. Hating and fearing the body, we turn away from knowledge of the other. If we destroy the evidence of our culture’s roots in Mesopotamia, then we stand alone, unique, born fully formed of a god, chosen and invincible. Or maybe not. The destruction of the library of Baghdad was the cultural equivalent of destroying the fossil evidence of evolution.

Currently, ours is a nightmarish land, both fearful of all it does not know and proud of this ignorance. Too many of us believe in miracles but not in evolution or global warming, the Second Coming but not social justice. We need to understand why.

A Spell For Going Safely Forth By Day
The Trouble with the Horses