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{Empty title} | The Nation

The fundamental problem with the "9/11 meme" is that it implies, to the uncritical mind, a necessarily link between a true description and a false prescription. The true description is that of organized murder on an appalling and devastating scale. The false prescription is pre-emptive war, also known as the Bush Doctrine.

Lakshmi Chaudhry is right to be exasperated with journalists who, rather than attack this barbaric ethical prescription, take the cowardly, roundabout path of watering down the description. The effect of this is not only to leave unchallenged the faulty assumption that victimization always must lead to vengeance. Worse, it is to trivialize the pain and the grief of the victims of the traumatic attacks in Mumbai.

Rather than trivialize this grief, we need to embrace it and to validate it. The ethic of bomb-dropping retribution would not seem so unassailable if it didn't have a powerful emotion behind it: the thirst for vengeance, which the self-deluded cult of masculinity misrepresents as virtue.

But there are equally strong, or perhaps even stronger emotions that are nobler and far more needful in the wake of this and other traumas. I believe one of these is grief. Grief is not for sissies. Its onset feels like helplessness, not like the delusion of power that vengefulness bestows. The experience of grief is pure pain, like the application of a red-hot iron to cauterize an open wound. But grief leads to healing, whereas the end effect of anger, rashly acted upon, is to spread its infection to new victims.

Grief can also be like a cloudburst, particularly if we are willing to share it openly with others. It waters the soul and purges it of bile. It washes away the distinctions between us and lets us see, through the magnifying lenses of tears, the common humanity of others.

I believe a new president could send a new message by grieving with the citizens of Mumbai. I believe he could present us all with a nobler image of masculinity by validating the grief of traumatized men and women everywhere. Maybe if we more often had the courage to share our grief, we would more often avoid the divisive and perhaps catastrophic effects of unrestrained rage.