20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks and the Importance of Memory

Brian Hickey- 9/11/2021

Whenever significant public or private anniversaries in one’s lifetime come along, individuals recount the happenings of the day, particularly according to how they experienced it. For dates that commemorate events from long ago like a country’s Independence Day or somber occasions such as Holocaust Remembrance Day, we often imagine what it would have been like to live during the time of events while thinking about how it affects our reality today. Memory and remembrance hold significance in a Christian’s life when recounting Jesus’ teachings, death, and resurrection, especially during Mass when encountering the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and what it means to walk out a Eucharistic life. Now 20 years after the events on September 11, 2001, the crucial need for remembrance remains, including for the nearly 3,000 individuals of our fellow Americans killed, the many more lives upended, and as we grapple with the past month and ongoing events in Afghanistan.

Every 9/11 anniversary undoubtedly brings a range of emotions for those closest to the victims and for the generation of Americans for whom that day contains an indelible memory. For the generation of Americans with no memory of that day or were not yet born, how we remember 9/11 matters. Pope Francis said recently, “Remembering is an expression of humanity. Remembering is a sign of civilization. Remembering is a condition for a better future of peace and fraternity.” We have a responsibility to hand over those memories, firstly that of the individuals killed on 9/11/2001.

Of course, one cannot do justice in honoring all the nearly 3,000 individuals. Still, we can resist the temptation to only refer to a statistic encompassing all those beloved children of God. Some might identify with and carry the legacies of firefighters who courageously scrambled to the Twin Towers. Others might put themselves in the position of Welles Crowther and imagine if they could emulate his life-saving and heroic actions. Still, others might scroll through the thousands of names and images and remember strangers like Patricia Ann Cimaroli Massari and her unborn child. We can witness and honor their lives and express hope for a more peaceful world when we remember them.

This year’s anniversary brings another somber element with our country’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, resulting in turmoil, fear, and displacement for millions of Afghans. Many Americans rightly feel distraught that the same group that harbored the 9/11 terrorists and maintained ties with Al-Qaeda sits in political power today. We must also grieve for the next generation of Afghan girls unable to receive an education and families dealing with severe economic and medical crises under a repressive regime. Certainly, our country’s efforts in the war on terror and approach to international peace have not been straightforward or beyond reproach both in strategy and results. Remembrance of 9/11 grounds us in facing the issues today.

As we all hopefully remember and reflect on that fateful day 20 years ago, let us begin principally with those whose lives were cut brutally short. We cannot begin to grasp all the ramifications for the United States and our world on 9/11/2001, even 20 years later, but we can recognize the importance of passing our 9/11 memories to those with no recollection. Doing so not only allows us to express our common humanity, but also to witness its consequences today. On this particular anniversary, we can elevate our reflections to include our suffering Afghan brothers and sisters.

Finally, we must not forget the coming together of our nation, world, and Christians and Muslims in the days following 9/11/2001. Let us still strive and cling to the hope for a world of more fraternity guided by the Prince of Peace and our love of neighbor both near and far.

-Brian Hickey is an Associate Director in the Office for Human Dignity at the Diocese of Joliet. He can be contacted at bhickey@dioceseofjoliet.org

“Never Again” Happening Again- Uighur Muslims in China

Brian Hickey- 04/08/2021

Numerous reports have documented state atrocities against Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. The devastating reports of forced labor, rape, forced sterilizations, and forced abortions in concentration camps easily provoke anger and sadness about how atrocities like this continue to occur worldwide. An essential step in understanding these atrocities and taking action against them is labeling them according to established international norms. Consequently, actions against Uighurs by the Chinese state have now been designated a genocide, including by the U.S. government.    

Genocide committed against millions of Jews during World War II produced the term “Never again” that referred broadly to the international community’s effort to prevent genocide. It was understood to mean that other countries would not remain bystanders when genocide occurred against a population. “Never again” thus became a rallying cry for the world to prevent regimes or groups from inflicting suffering like the atrocities Jews suffered by Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, the cry “Never again” has not prevented genocides from occurring. Still, accurate designations of the actions can help ensure that the international community fosters global attention and action to stop the abuses.

The U.S. State Department has made declarations of genocide in five situations in the last thirty years, including Bosnia in 1993, Rwanda in 1994, Iraq in 1995, Darfur in 2004, the Islamic State in 2016 and 2017, and now the Uighur Muslims in China. A declaration of genocide by the U.S. government is critical when atrocities are ongoing because it can organize support worldwide to stop the atrocities. It also acknowledges victims’ suffering and establishes a need for accountability for how the genocide happened. United Nations Member States in 1948 established a needed definition of genocide, which gives criteria on when particular situations deserve the term.

How does the definition of genocide apply to the Chinese state’s current persecution of Uighur Muslims? A necessary component for a declaration of genocide is an actor’s intent to destroy a particular group. Reports of the Chinese state’s systematic use of forced sterilizations, abortion, family separation, and internment against Uighur Muslims clarify its intent to destroy the Uighur people biologically. Additionally, the reports of forced labor, rape, and torture, among other abuses, constitute another component needed in measuring genocide, “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” Separating Uighur children from their parents through mass internment and “reeducation” programs fits another component of “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Atrocities against Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region necessitates a designation of genocide because it fits the definition established by United Nations Member States in 1948. Such a designation can now secure widespread support to help stop these atrocities and bring to light Uighur suffering on a mass scale. The U.S. government’s accurate identification of genocide can help fulfill the call for “Never again,” but not without subsequent action from other state and non-state actors.

-Brian Hickey is an Associate Director in the Office for Human Dignity at the Diocese of Joliet. He can be contacted at bhickey@dioceseofjoliet.org