September 11. I can’t let the day pass without some reminder, some tribute and yet what words have we not said; what videos have we not seen? What tears have we not shed; what songs and tributes have we not shared?
Perhaps we have said it all, shared it all, cried rivers of tears only to realize that the image of that second plane will forever be in our minds. It was that instant that separates the moments before, when some people clung to the absurd idea that someone could accidentally have hit the first tower…with the shocking reality that this time disaster was not averted, the terrorists were not caught in time. Whatever innocence there was before fell away, in that split second.
The stages of grief are known to many. There is rage, sorrow, acceptance, and finally the lingering grief that settles with the knowledge that the pain will never go away. We all have that, I think, to varying degrees, but with this today, comes another thought…there are still lessons we have failed to learn.
For me, this brings the certainty that 9/11 will forever revisit us. There are no limits to the barbarity and they can always think of a new target, a new method, a fresh and innocent weak point in cultures where people celebrate their freedom to move, to live, to gather.
We are, essentially, doomed to be victims of future 9/11s because that may be the only role available to us…or so we think. On 9/11, were there two groups of people – the attackers, and those who were attacked? This is too simple – there were others on that day.
There were those who ran to help, those amazing first-responders who have always been the best amongst us. They were victims of the terror but they were not attacked. They put themselves in harm’s way because that is who they were, those are the highest of values cherished in the societies in which we live. They ran in to help as thousands were running for shelter. And there were those who celebrated – in Indonesia, Gaza, Iraq, Lebanon, and even in Arab neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY.
Four groups…the attacked, the first-responders who went to help, the attackers, and those who celebrated some imagined victory. A huge chasm exists between the first two groups and the second two…and in that chasm are the lessons. What are the lessons not learned? Is there any way to ensure there are no more 9/11s? There has to be a “yes” to that.
There are lessons that all of us have learned – to cherish our freedom; to celebrate life; to value courage all the more. We have learned to be aware – of the inconsistencies that should have alerted us before…that a normal person wants to not just learn to fly, but learn to land, that there are those who search for our weakness, our vulnerability. We have learned to share our knowledge and intelligence gathering resources across borders. We have learned to suspect, to watch, to guard.
There are lessons that only some of us have learned – that those who celebrate death, fear our freedom and hate the very values we cherish; that even those who hide behind the mask of “moderation” still adhere to the principles of Jihad and destruction of infidels. At best, they lack the courage to fight the extremists among them, and at worst, their silence encourages future 9/11s.
Some have learned that there is a fundamental battle of cultures that will not be erased by capitulation and compromise. Nothing short of our full surrender will be accepted. We are and forever will be the evil infidels their God has demanded them to fight by any and all means. In this twisted view, it is the attacker who is brave and honorable. And the first-responder who dies beside the intended victim becomes a Jihadi bonus.
But I struggle this day not with what we have learned, but with what we have not. Do we have to be like them to fight them? Can we avoid 9/11s and still operate as a free society? Is it possible to challenge a culture that thrives on terror and celebrates martyrdom?
The images they love are the ones where we cry out our agony, where we run for safety and cower in bomb shelters.I know what images they crave; I know what they want. I understand what it is in their religion that causes them to do what they do.
I know there is a lesson in this knowledge…but where? What are the lessons we need to learn to stop future 9/11s?
The answer to this question is perhaps our greatest challenge.