Reflections on 9/11 - One Year Later
Purdue Calumet's 9/11/02 Campus Observance
We are gathered this morning to remember the losses of life that America suffered one year ago today – at the World Trade Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania – losses suffered at the hands of terrorists.
We are also gathered to reflect on the meaning of those losses and our country’s responses to them over the past year.
I want to speak briefly about some core American values that were challenged by the terrorist attack and about our response to them:
In a democracy, the contest for power takes place in the arena of elections rather than the arena of arms.
Much of the shock of a terrorist attack on America comes from the relative absence of domestic terrorism.
In a society where the channels of participation are real, groups that would use violence for political ends are not very successful.
9/11 was an insight into a world in which non-democratic means are used for political ends.
Our response to terrorism must be grounded in law and political process.
9/11 was an important reminder our commitment to the value of democracy.
It is the strength of our democracy that will render terrorist tactics ineffective in the long run.
One of the cornerstone values of our society is the limitation on government intrusion in our personal lives and respect for our personal privacy. Limited government was perhaps the dominating value of the American Revolution.
America’s response to 9/11 stimulated challenges to the value of personal liberty in the name of security. This is most obvious in airports, government offices and in businesses that deal in sensitive materials (oil, transportation) etc.
Our response also reintroduced the idea of “profiling” for security purposes. The balance of liberty and security is a serious matter. Our challenge is to break out of “either/or” (either liberty or security) and find the path to “both (liberty)/and (security).”
If we pursue security without concern for liberty, our response to terrorism will sacrifice the core value we were trying to protect.
The events of 9/11/01 reminded us that being a citizen is more than being a taxpayer. As citizens we need to be actively involved in the political decisions that affect our lives. I hope that the outpouring of patriotism and the commitment to “united we stand” will translate into participation in civic life at all levels.
I would add that citizenship is more effective when citizens are knowledgeable and informed. Education is a cornerstone of citizenship, and one of the most important things we do at Purdue Calumet is develop educated citizens.
Taking this a step further, the most important thing each of us can do to subvert terrorism is to be an informed, educated, committed, involved citizen.
Active citizenship is what makes democracy strong.
Terrorism plays on fear to induce passivity. Our strength is in action.
In the days and weeks that followed 9/11 we learned a lot about al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Part of what we learned was how intolerant those groups are toward the beliefs of others. We learned about the suppression of difference and the hostility to alternative ways of life where the Taliban were in control.
We also learned that we had our own opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to tolerance. There are a multitude of Muslims in the U.S. who do not condone fanatic intolerance, and who do not deserve to be categorized with the terrorists.
Part of the expression of our values includes the protection of those individuals.
Tolerance requires that we accept a wide range of differences in belief, opinion and practice.
Tolerance also encourages us to learn more about the beliefs, opinions and practices of others. Understanding the values of others is a road to deepening our commitment to our own values.
These American values are at the heart of our social life together. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were intended to challenge these values, in part by causing us to abandon them in our response.
I am proud to say that, for the most part, our responses helped strengthen these values.
But that work is not finished.
The jury is still out on how much liberty we will sacrifice for security and how tolerant we are prepared to be of Muslim Americans.
Democracy and citizenship are not values to be accomplished and then set aside. We must work at them every day through learning and the pursuit of knowledge. Use it or lose it!
A 9/11 remembrance is a perfect opportunity to remind ourselves to practice democracy, liberty, citizenship and tolerance. Take every opportunity to strengthen America.
That is the most significant thing we can do to commemorate the lives that were lost one year ago today.