YAF 9/11 display unites and divides

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On Sept. 11, SMU Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) held its annual 9/11 Never Forget Memorial on Dallas Hall Lawn.

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SMU YAF's Never Forget flag display on Dallas Hall Lawn Photo credit: Jesse Carr

I don’t often support YAF’s activities – much less its politics – but this was one display I could get behind. 9/11 should be a day of solemn remembrance, and a celebration of the values of liberal democracy upon which this nation was founded and has thrived.

The flag display, for me, was a reminder of the tragic loss of life that resulted from a direct attack upon those values. It was also a poignant show of calm unity in days of unprecedented division, and a reminder of the myopia of the battles we currently rage against ourselves and our liberal foundations.

But I would be remiss, even as I genuinely thank YAF, if I did not point out the display’s problems.

YAF is a transparently right-wing student organization, founded under the direct influence of William F. Buckley Jr. and unabashedly dedicated, according to YAF’s website, to “diligently [advancing] conservatism” on college campuses.

None of these are necessarily bad things, though I would question the absence on SMU’s campus of any sort of analogous left-wing organization.

Without an appropriate counterbalance, YAF’s activities begin to feel monopolistic – and that, paradoxically, often makes them easier to ignore.

But more importantly, I take issue with the fact that what could be an utterly nonpartisan display of remembrance has become tainted with ideological motivations.

In other words: why have we at SMU allowed ourselves to come to a place where the campus right-wing organization has carved out for itself the responsibility and privilege of holding the flag display?

Why haven’t College Republicans and College Democrats teamed up in sensible, bi-partisan sponsorship of the project?

Why, for that matter, doesn’t the university itself put on the display?

It might seem like I’m splitting hairs here. After all, who really cares how the flags get there, so long as they do in fact get there?

But YAF’s sponsorship makes the display more than a memorial. It also becomes a piece of campus political rhetoric, designed in part to garner sympathy and admiration for an organization which otherwise tends to garner its fair share of opponents.

YAF’s sponsorship makes a show of benignly patriotic unity into a reminder of how we are divided.

Words like ‘patriotism’ and ‘freedom’ cease to be neutral when used to veil an explicitly political agenda. And any hope in the genuine neutrality of the display was dashed when Rev. Rafael Cruz, the notorious homophobe and provocateur, was selected to lead the invocation at YAF’s memorial ceremony.

My thanks really do go out to YAF, because I appreciated the display, as did many other members of the SMU and Dallas communities.

I just wish I could have admired this movingly human show of memory and loss without being distracted by its politics.

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