Remembering 9/11: Five Important Lessons
Because those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
No one can ever forget that September 11. It was 16 years ago but I can vividly recall exactly where I was standing and what I was thinking when I first heard that America was under attack and that the World Trade Center was falling.
It’s hard to believe that there are young people for whom the events of that horrific day are not personal memories but simply moments of recorded history. Yet 9/11 was not just traumatic, it was transformative. It brought a new understanding of the threats to our very survival. 9/11 was a wake-up call for civilization. Let us take stock of these five major messages, mindful of Santayana’s famous warning that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
1. We Are All Israelis
Immediately after 9/11, the phrase “we are all Israelis” appeared in some reports. But it was soon forgotten or hijacked by other groups and different causes. Yet it captured a profound truth. The enemies of Israel turned out to be the same enemies intent on destroying the Western world and civilized society as we know it.
For years the United States as well as other democracies watched the terrorism and the intifada and the butchering and the sadistic slayings of innocents from afar and thought it had nothing to do with them. Suddenly came the recognition that there is no longer a concept of distance for terror. 9/11 made clear that an ocean can no longer keep Americans safe from attack and that the battle against jihad isn’t restricted to Jerusalem.
2. The Terrorists Shouted Allah Akbar
No amount of verbal camouflage can hide the truth. The people responsible for the murder of over 3000 innocent Americans were Muslims who proclaimed their deed a glorious act bringing glory to their God for the death of deserving infidels.
The extremist fanatics of 9/11 must be denounced in every mosque, condemned by every imam, censured by every fatwa on the anniversary of the day which ought to bring shame to every believer in a God of mercy and compassion.
Let us be ready to agree with all those who loudly proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace – but let us be convinced of their sincerity by their willingness to openly censure all those who continued to justify barbaric behavior in the name of their religion.
3. America Had No “Settlements”
The Palestinians have perfected slogans to justify their actions. It’s “the settlements.” It’s “the occupation.” It’s the flavor of the month they choose to give legitimacy to their cause.
No one seems to wonder why the same hatred and desire for the destruction of Israel post 1967 and the settlements was just as intense before Israel prevailed in a war not of their choosing and in which despite unbelievable odds they proved victorious.
There were no settlements nor was there an occupation when the Arabs massacred Jews in Hebron in 1929, just as these rationales for Jew hatred did not exist when the United Nations established legitimacy for the creation of the Jewish state only to be followed by a declaration of war intent on its destruction by the seven Arab nations surrounding it.
The attack of 9/11 against the United States was, in the words of Bernard Lewis, “a clash of civilizations.” Yes, there are those who want to see an end to democracy. Yes, there are those who want to see a global caliphate governed by the rules of sharia. Yes, 9/11 was a demonstration of the larger truth that there is a culture of hatred in the world which masks its essence under the guise of grievances which have nothing to do with its true motivations.
4. Real Evil Exists In This World
Shortly after 9/11, Newsweek magazine featured a column by a college student asking for “greater perspective and greater understanding”. After all, this spokesman for cultural relativism plaintively asked, who is to say whether those responsible should be judged by the standards of our morality rather those of their culture in which they died as martyrs in the name of a greater cause.
It is a point of view which still seems to enjoy some legitimacy in the academic halls of supra-liberalism. Some people, as Bertrand Russell famously put it, are so open minded they allow their brains to fallout. Cannibals may have justified eating other human beings, but being civilized surely demands a higher standard for ethical dining. Spare me the similar defense for Nazis who took part in concentration camp atrocities because “at the time” pushing Jews into the crematoria was considered acceptable.
Evil is evil. “Thou shalt not murder” was spoken for all times, for all places and for all people.
A post-9/11 world needs to remember that extreme evil must be fought even more than it must be understood.
5. Crises Remind Us of Our Potential for Greatness
There is a final message to be learned from 9/11. It is the one with the greatest power to turn tragedy into hope, despair into optimism.
Those of us who lived through the horror recall another part of the story. It was the remarkable effect of communal pain creating an unparalleled sense of comradeship. Unbearable hardship gave us a kind of kinship we hardly ever experience except in times of severe crisis. Somehow we knew and we understood that we were all in this together. Reading the stories of those who perished made us relate to every life in a way we never thought possible, and allowed us to understand all the better the preciousness of every moment of our own existence.
So many of us realized that we could just as well have been among the victims and felt a keener sense of gratitude for all the things we normally take so much for granted.
Abraham was tested with ten trials. The Hebrew word for tested has a dual meaning. It tells us he was tried but it also, remarkably enough, teaches us that he was elevated. Having endured the difficulties he gained even greater stature.
That is what 9/11 must achieve for us as well. On its 16th anniversary, let us hope it can accomplish that if we but heed its crucial lessons.