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A Response to the "Truth"

So there I sat at a Rosh Hashanah meal speaking to someone I had never met before. He seemed nice and thoughtful, and I quickly began enjoying what was becoming a lengthy conversation. After the usual introductory pleasantries, we engaged in a pretty high-level discussion about various political topics, including the Republican presidential nomination. Eventually, we touched upon 9/11. The commemorative 10th year anniversary had been observed just a few weeks earlier and was still on our minds. And that’s when it happened—he asserted that 9/11 was an inside job. I was stunned.

In general, there are three conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. The least extreme suggests that the record of the events of 9/11 was somehow greatly falsified and that another investigation should be conducted. The mid-level extreme theory is that the Bush administration had prior knowledge of the attacks but let them occur anyway. But the most extreme of the 9/11 conspiracy theories, the position that my conversation partner took, is that the U.S. government secretly orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to create an excuse to invade Iraq and Afghanistan for oil.

At first I was just shocked; I didn’t understand how someone who otherwise appeared so rational and clear-minded could be a “truther”—the common name for a 9/11 conspiracy theorist—and such a radical one at that. I previously thought that truthers were part of such a small minority of the country that I would only meet one at a Ron Paul presidential rally. But here one was sharing a Rosh Hashanah meal with me—a truther in the flesh.

Quickly, though, my surprise turned to anger. Although I controlled myself, trying not to make the atmosphere of the meal uncomfortable, I was mad. But what infuriated me so much was not simply the fact that this guy was asserting something that I consider to be a distortion of the truth (when he subsequently mentioned that Lyndon Johnson was really behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy so that he could send America to war in Vietnam, I was not nearly as upset); rather, my frustration was a deeper, more personal one. Like many other Americans, I will never forget the events of 9/11 and those who perished that day. Although this term is not often used, they were indeed “martyrs.” Those who were killed in the attack were targeted because they represented the principles and values of American ideology, which their murderers could not tolerate. I have the greatest respect for the American men, women, and children who were lost on 9/11.

Therefore, when someone comes and claims that 9/11 was really the result of some secret governmental scheme, those who died during the 9/11 attacks are no longer honorable martyrs, but merely victims. If we accept this theory, we must conclude that their deaths were not to uphold freedom and liberty. Rather, we would say that they acted as pawns in a sinister government’s strategy of power plays. Such degradation rubbed me the wrong way, to say the least.

For a few days after the conversation I was irritated that I didn’t do or say anything to prevent the “truther” from spewing such repugnant nonsense to others. A simple “shut up” would have probably sufficed had it been loud and forceful enough. Instead, I just sat idly by.

But after thinking long and hard about the matter, searching for some catharsis, I realized what the proper response would have been. It was exactly what I did: nothing. The correct response was my silence. I restrained myself from shouting him down. I allowed him to express his opinion, all the while internally opposing it. Freedom of speech is at the foundation of the American way of life—the way of life that those killed on 9/11 died upholding. Paradoxically, only deference for freedom of speech, even in the face of the beliefs of a truther, honors the memory of the 9/11 martyrs.

People often lose sight of the importance of freedom of speech. It is something one should always appreciate and keep in mind whenever confronted with a contrary opinion — the value of factual rebuttal notwithstanding—no matter how “true” its supporters believe it to be.