All Each Other Has

The Politics of Victimhood: Two Sisters on 9/11, National Memory, and Tragedy as a Spectacle

Episode Notes

In Part Two of their series on spectacular death, Ellie and Carrie speak with sisters Jessica and Leila Murphy, who lost their father Brian in the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  He was 41 years old, Jessica 5 and Leila almost 4. Since that terrible day, Jessica and Leila have had to grow up not only without a father but also with the complexities that come with losing him in the attacks.   From their inability to grieve privately to the invocation of their father’s name to justify two wars and countless acts of violence, Jessica and Leila have struggled with the meaning and responsibilities of victimhood. Now 26 and 25, they are part of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which advocates nonviolent options in pursuit of justice, including closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

We discuss Leila’s 2021 piece in The Nation “I Lost My Father on 9/11, but I Never Wanted to Be a ‘Victim,’” Jessica’s 2019 essay in The Indy, “Among the Iguanas: On life and the pursuit of death in Guantánamo Bay,” and a 2003 Brown Alumni Magazine profile on their mother Judy Bram Murphy's widowhood.  The sisters also offer thoughtful insight into successes and shortcomings of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as a force of public instruction.

Other works cited are “The Aesthetics of Absence” by Marita Sturken, Ambiguous Loss by Pauline Boss, The Land of Open Graves by Jason De León, Julia Rodriguez’s 2017 op-ed for the New York Times “Guantanamo Is Delaying Justice for 9/11 Families,” Rachel Kushner’s 2019 feature on Ruth Wilson Gilmore and prison abolition for the New York Times, The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer, and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Films mentioned are World Trade Center (2006), United 93 (2006), The Mauritanian (2021), and The Report (2019).