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Nancy Pelosi in Washington, DC on 1/4/2019 © Michael Candelori / Shutterstock

Nancy Pelosi’s Misplaced Act of Reverence

She may now be playing a key role in resolving Brexit, but Nancy Pelosi hasn’t quite understood the reality of Islamophobia or even of recent American history.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was unhappy with the fact that US President Donald Trump attacked her fellow Democratic member of Congress, whom he quoted out of context as she evoked the events of September 11, 2001. Pelosi tweeted: “The memory of 9/11 is sacred ground, and any discussion of it must be done with reverence.  The President shouldn’t use the painful images of 9/11 for a political attack.”

What was she unhappy about? As she failed to mention Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, the person whom the president had attacked, the two terms “sacred ground” and “reverence” seem to indicate that she was more concerned about defending the honor of a historical event than about defending the honor of a colleague.

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Reverence:

A deeply respectful attitude concerning a person, an event or an institution that, when evinced in the world of politics, is designed to preclude any form of rational thought or critical thinking 

Contextual note 

History unfortunately provides humanity and individual nations with multiple occasions for remembrance. However pregnant in emotion, there is no justification in any historian’s eyes for rhetorically removing the event itself and the understanding of its significance from the course of history. But that is what happens when a politician speaks about “sacred ground” and the duty of “reverence.” Pelosi has a personal reason for deflecting critical thought concerning the events of 9/11. It provided the emotional excuse for her unqualified and enthusiastic support of George W. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In an article for The Intercept, Robert Mackey points out that not only did Pelosi fail to specifically defend Omar, she implicitly agreed at least partially with Trump’s criticism, as she “seemed to endorse the claim that Omar had somehow erred in failing to show ‘reverence’ in how she referred to the 9/11 attacks.” Pelosi’s message seems to be curiously similar to Trump’s own in his attack on Omar: “WE WILL NEVER FORGET” and “September 11, 2001. WE REMEMBER.” That is what “reverence” sounds like.

Pelosi confirms her obsession with reverentially invoking a tragic event — which incidentally led to a series of disastrous events thanks to the military reaction by the US that she embraced — in another tweet on the same day, April 13: “As we visit our troops in Stuttgart to thank them and be briefed by them, we honor our first responsibility as leaders to protect and defend the American people.  It is wrong for the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to fan the flames to make anyone less safe.”

Her final statement is both comically and tragically true, given the number of people whose circumstances have been made “less safe” by the foreign policy of all recent presidents, especially in their capacity of commander-in-chief, whether the damage done to their safety was in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Nicaragua and, of course, Israel, to name only those nations. It’s certainly true that Trump has assembled a team of people who not only fan the flames but are also dedicated flame-throwers, such as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

On a visit to Ireland, Pelosi made the headlines again by affirming her “reverence” not just for 9/11, but also for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that risks being imperiled by a hard Brexit in the United Kingdom. By promising to prevent any UK-US trade agreement following a Brexit that were to leave the two Irelands with a hard border, she has caused serious damage to what the Scottish poet Robert Burns would have called “the best-laid schemes of mice” and… Brexiteers. She may not be too worried about Islamophobia, but she isn’t about to accept Celtophobia.

Historical note

The traumatic events now commemorated reverentially by Americans as “9/11” belong to history and contain many complex threads that both political commentators and historians will continue grappling with for decades to come. Neither Trump nor Pelosi cares to remember that the historical context of 9/11 included the CIA’s mentoring of Osama bin Laden as an ally of the US in one of the hotter episodes of its long-running Cold War with Russia. It also included a strange, ambiguous and fundamentally unnatural complicity with Saudi Arabia stretching back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

There remains a troubling but never adequately explored mystery about how much the Bush administration’s national security team knew about al-Qaeda’s preparations for the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. In other words, there may be some aspects of that terrifying event that, in hindsight, are less easy to revere.

The reverential view of 9/11 has reduced its significance to that of a senseless attack by a group of “evil Muslims” on America itself, with no other motive than the fact that “they hate us for our freedoms.” Curiously, in that same short sequence, Bush made this complaint concerning the “they” who attacked the US: “[T]hey want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries,” as if Saudi Arabia and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt — two of the countries he named — could also be characterized as countries that were “hated for their freedoms.”

Ten years later, “they” — but this time the Egyptian people, not al-Qaeda — did overthrow the government of Egypt, before another US president, Barack Obama, helped to engineer and support Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s military coup against the newly-liberated nation in 2013. Sisi is now about to abolish the last vestiges of democracy by forcing through changes to the constitution that will keep him in power at least until 2030.

US culture has never been good at reacting to or digesting national tragedy. John F. Kennedy was no sooner dead than he became the American King Arthur, the lord of Camelot. Martin Luther King’s martyrdom enabled the nation to transform the acerbic critic of American militarism and economic exploitation into the benign saint who preached the gospel of racial harmony.

As soon as 9/11 occurred, practically the entire political class endowed it with a quasi-religious status. The fall of the twin towers in New York was in some sense the crucifixion of the American soul. Few people reflected on the symbolic meaning of the attacks, the fact that the terrorists had targeted the two principal weapons of American imperial power: Wall Street and the Pentagon. There was even an echo of King Kong, brought down by planes from the height of a skyscraper in New York. There was a message in their madness, but no one took the time to read it. Instead, official voices froze it into a sacred moment to be forever revered.

In the eyes of its leaders — Democrat and Republican — if the US is to maintain its “exceptional” status, its history must not be studied, but revered.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.