Magazine article The Christian Century

Why Do We Call It 9/11?

Magazine article The Christian Century

Why Do We Call It 9/11?

Article excerpt

Despite all the attention given to remembering the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, little attention has been given to one conspicuous aspect--the event has no name.

We don't refer to the issuing of the Magna Carta as 6/15 (the date in 1215 when the document was published). The horrible event of November 22, 1963, is called "the JFK assassination," not 11/22. It's "the Challenger explosion," not 1/28, and "the Oklahoma City bombing," not 4/19. Nor were these events referred to or identified by their date of occurrence in the confusing early days and months after they happened.

Our reference to 9/11 is empty of substance. We aren't explicitly referring to anything about 9/11 except that it was September 11. So what's in a name--or, in this case, what's in no name?

On some fuzzy, subconscious level, it may be that 9/11 caught on because 911 is the emergency phone number--the digits to be dialed in case of extreme crisis. If the attack had occurred on 9/10 or 9/12, perhaps we wouldn't be referring to this disaster by the date.

In any case, nearly a decade after the attack, we are still debating just what it meant or means. Was it a battle in the clash between Islam and Christianity? Was it Islam's declaration of war on the West? Or something else?

What 9/11 means is still debated. And surely it's better that we adopt no name for it than adopt a specious and misleading name. To come up with a name that suggests the attack was a case of Islam versus Christianity, or Islam versus the West, would be a destructive act of misnaming. What happened on that day was an attack by one group of Muslims. All of Islam did not attack the U.S. on September 11 any more than all of Christianity attacked Oklahoma City when the extremist Christian Timothy McVeigh bombed it on April 19, 1995.

But just calling it 9/11 may leave the event too wide open for misinterpretation. …

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