As I prepared to leave my studio apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, during my first year of graduate studies at Brown University, the newsflash of a plane crashing into the Twin Towers in New York City seemed to reach through the television to pull me back inside.

For days, months, and subsequent years, the images of the collapsing towers, clouds of smoke suffocating New York, and the burning Pentagon faded away to resounding narratives of Americans galvanizing themselves to stand in unison against a war on terrorism. By invading Afghanistan, bombing Iraq, and killing Osama Bin Laden, the nation stood proud as the “master of war,” celebrating its decades-long war against terrorism, the so-called barbarians and mostly Muslim communities thousands of miles away.

The pro-war America stood in tension with the non-violent human rights activism led by African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement and era of Black Power. These leaders and theorists advocated for non-violence, deliberative democracy, and discourse ethics to avoid divisive disagreements and needless wars. For years, I questioned the utility of non-violence. 

The pro-war America stood in tension with the non-violent human rights activism led by African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement and era of Black Power.

But in the 20 years following the attacks against the nation, and America’s ongoing war against terrorism, I stand firmly with Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against an “open-ended” military attack in retaliation against those responsible for 9/11. According to the Washington Post, Representative Lee’s vote stemmed in part from a prayer by the then dean of the Washington National Cathedral, the Rev. Nathan Baxter: “Let us also pray for the divine wisdom as our leaders consider the necessary actions for national security, wisdom of the grace of God, that as we act we not become the evil we deplore.” Rev. Baxter’s prayer is a stinging reminder of the stain left upon a nation that seeks to avenge terrorism and promote democracy with violence.

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