Asking Unanswered Questions
This September marks the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
Like many people, Ray McGinnis remembers where he was on that September 11th in 2001; at a retreat centre in Joshua Tree National Park, the lone foreigner among 60 Americans. It took five days for him to be able to get out of the U.S., due to heightened security as the world moved into a “post 9/11 era”. Once he was back in Canada he remembers hearing former Foreign Affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy speaking at the public library, saying that the attacks required a police response rather than a military response, but of course there was a military response and a “War on Terror”.
In 2007, Ray was doing tours facilitating writing workshops. (Ray, who graduated from the Centre for Christian Studies in 1980 and currently serves as the chair of CCS’s Communications Committee, is the author of Writing the Sacred: A Psalm-inspired Path to Appreciating and Writing Sacred Poetry.) Looking for something to read at the airport bookshop on his way from one gig to another, he picked up Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow by Kristen Breitweiser. It was a bit of a wake up call for Ray too.
“I thought, ‘Hmm, I’ve been following the news for six years, and aside from reading a few obituaries and occasionally hearing families reading the names of loved ones on anniversaries, I’ve had no awareness of the families’ activities, and certainly not of their grassroots advocacy for an investigation.”
Ray started a file of news clippings about the families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks and about the Family Steering Committee that pushed for an official inquiry and gathered questions that the families wanted answers to.
There was an official inquest. The 9/11 Commission received the questions from the families with deference. And yet, when the official Report of the 9/11 Commission came on, only about 9% of the families’ questions were dealt with. That leaves a lot unanswered.
Ray is interested in those unanswered questions.
Many others have written about the events surrounding 9/11 from a political science perspective, with data and analysis. Ray, building on his work encouraging people to write their own psalms, poems, and memoirs, is interested in the personal narrative.
In his new book, Unanswered Questions: What the September Eleventh Families Asked and the 9/11 Commission Ignored, which comes out this September, Ray deals with some of the unanswered questions. Each chapter focuses on a different perspective and on the story of the families who pushed for an investigation, provided questions, and are now pushing for a new transparent investigation. This has been resisted by many in authority and in the media who feel that the issues have all been resolved and any further questions are just an invitation to conspiracy theory.
“The Family Steering Committee,” Ray notes, “has been very careful not to conclude that there is government complicity. But there should be a new investigation, they feel. And If there are conspiracy theories, it’s the fault of the way the investigation was handled.”
Ray notes that the section headings for the 9/11 Commission Report were written up before the Commission had done their interviews, suggesting in some ways that the Commission knew their answers before they asked any questions. Witnesses, like Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, were only interviewed by each 9/11 Commissioner for only five minutes a turn (much of which was consumed with niceties and compliments).
“This raises issues of authority and leadership and trust, and why we trust what we trust, and what our view is of the health of our democracy,” says Ray. “What questions do we ask? What questions do we avoid?”
American theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist, John B. Cobb Jr, writes in the foreword to Unanswered Questions: “McGinnis’ book is inherently critical of our government. He agrees that the needs of those whose questions he is writing about have not been taken seriously. He tells the story of their repeated frustrations and disappointments. Speaking simply for myself, I say that people who go to great lengths to keep others ignorant appear to have something to hide. I feel certain that those who have experienced refusal of real information for so long must sometimes share this suspicion.”
“I let all the different voices have their say,” says Ray, “and I try to write the book so the reader can come to their own conclusions, because I really want people to think. So often people want to be told, but I really want people to think, and to think about the families’ experiences.”
Although written for the general public, a study guide for churches is being developed with people like Barbara Myers, Dawn Rolke, and Marion Best. “It’s important for churches to reflect on what it means to be in a post 9/11 world in light of the families’ questions.”