Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.
— Toni Morrison
Yesterday, we spent a fair amount of time watching documentaries of the horror and terror of September 11, 2001. I am numb again from what we saw and heard, am more aware today of the “sexist language, racist language, and theistic language” in and from that day. I’m wondering about the consequences.
One big tv network ran unedited 9 year old footage of the “events” from New York, from Washington, and from Pennsylvania, and we listened to reporters speculate, to find words, to remain in the know (both bearing “new news” knowledge and confining themselves to hedged news contained in what could be “confirmed” knowledge), to be objective (and not to hint at subjectivity). Another network showed political figures reflecting, and we heard them put language to terribly difficult decisions to be made.
Perhaps the most gripping “shows” we watched were on the History Channel. One, for example, was a series of videographers, both pros and amateurs, who’d had cameras in hand while in NYC on the morning of 9/11/2001; we watched their motion pictures and listened to their very personal emotional stories from various individual perspective. Another History Channel piece, documented and reenacted the last hour of American Airlines Flight 11, the first hijacked airplane to crash into the World Trade Center. The piece was reconstructed from telephone recorded and remembered telephone conversations with the flight crew, from the flight manifest, and from the contents of the lost but recovered luggage of one of the hijackers.
What seems particularly interesting to me is the language here. You see how I’ve started my post with an epigraph from Toni Morrison. What might be difficult for all of us reading (or having heard her here) is her word, all. She’s overgeneralizing, a first-year college Composition would do well to notice and the Composition instructor would do well to encourage such critical thinking. “All” is difficult because it’s all inclusive, and, in Morrison’s case, allowing for absolutely no exceptions. It’s what (in translated English) Aristotle warned against; he warned against “extreme,” specifically against “hyperbole.”
As I review and listen again to the language of “extremists,” I’m aware of their “sexist language, racist language, theist language,” all of it. Mohammed Atta, one of the masterminds behind the terrorism, left in his baggage a five-page handwritten Arabic note, a “manual for hijacking” according to the editor of the History Channel piece on the last hour of American Airlines flight 11. Atta was literally the voice for the other four hijackers with him, as he gave the final instructions, some broadcast into airspace, before he flew the airplane into the building. Much of his language was theist language in his “manual,” some racist.
The voiceover for the History Channel piece was careful to say that Atta did not represent “all” religious people, not “all” Muslims, not “all” of the Sunni Islamic faith. Rather, Atta was extreme, an extremist, a terrorist, a Jihadist, a fundamentalist of a very small group of a very narrow sect. And his instructions in his handwritten “manual” contained very unusual prayers. Some of these prayers were reenacted by actors playing the hijackers and English language translations were provided by the reporter giving the voiceover. The actions of the suicidists were not self centered only but were extremely God centered.
So “sexist language”?
Well, what’s been as reported as the theistic and racist extremisms of Mohammed Atta and his fellow highjackers is that their sexist beliefs and behaviors. They believed that they were not only hastening to God for the good of his world both in heaven and on earth as a consequence of expediting Jihad but that they were hastening also to respective virgins in heaven. In the days before 9/11/2001, they reportedly engaged in worldliness that included sinful lust (i.e., internet pornography definitely, and strip club visits? as did Nidal Malik Hasan reportedly before the days of his more recent terrorist attack and attempted suicide). The extremists’ teachings allow, forgive, and perhaps command such sexism in the name of God. The infiltration the infidels, as an extreme religious and racial exercise, requires such male denigration of females. It foreshadows the extreme reward of an eternity in God blessed acts with virgins exclusively assigned to the martyr.
Can Morrison be so sure that “all” sexist language, racist language, theistic language “are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas”? Can all of us read that wondering what makes language “sexist, racist, theistic”? Is it “all” about extremism? The sexist racist theist language of Mohammed Atta betrays the fact that he believed the innocents he was watching with sexual contempt, with racial contempt, and with almighty god’s contempt were deplorable indeed. Atta believed America is extremely sexist, racist, and theistic. He believed he and his kind were policed, had been mastered, had been ignored, neglected. A Muslim expert we heard interviewed yesterday noted that it would not have mattered to Atta if he’d learned that Muslims, even other Sunnis, had been on the plane he crashed or in the building he crashed the plane into (and in fact many Muslims were there). “All” of America justified the murder of “all” on the plane and “all” in the buildings.
So with what languages of our own can now read Morrison’s language? What of “all” the sexist, racist, theistic language of September 11?