Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ten Years After

I was in Canada attending the CIVICUS World Assembly ( during the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The assembly, a gathering of NGOs, civil society activists and youth from all over the world, stood in silent prayer and reflection as a mark of respect for those who died on that horrendous day as well as those who have died since as a consequence of the “war on terror.”

A common question during those sad and confusing days following the events of September 11th was “Why do they hate us?” They, being for the most part, a homogenous and poorly conceived Islam with its faceless (especially women “hiding” behind the veil or chador) Muslim adherents. A facile and misleading answer to this question was, “They hate us for our values and our freedoms.”

The dead should be honored and the perpetrators of this crime against humanity need to be brought to justice. I am being deliberately ambiguous here because without doubt those who funded and organized the crime and those who commandeered the planes that day were criminals, but to my mind, so too are the members of the US government who sanctioned and supported a response that has resulted in two wars, countless thousands of deaths and maiming, not to mention the considerable damage to the US as an upholder of democratic and respectful human rights values.

It is easier to rely on technological, military and economic might and reality TV visions of warfare and “shock and awe” than to tackle the complex factors that contributed to 9/11. It is also easier to mask rank opportunism—control of vital oil resources, for example—behind the rhetoric of patriotism and freedom.

Many commentators, Juan Cole ( and George Packer among them (, have noted what has been lost since 9/11. As editor for Kumarian Press, I have been fortunate to work with two authors who have also looked sensitively at a society which in many respects seems to have lost its moral compass (and I am not talking about those in the Middle East many of which have shown, through the “Arab Spring” a much firmer grasp of concepts such as democracy, freedom of expression and social change than we in the US have at the moment). Robert Ivie’s brilliant book Dissent from War ( addresses how words themselves are weapons of war and offers suggestions for transforming words from swords into ploughshares. Lyn Boyd Judson encourages us to never lose sight of the humanity of our enemies in her passionate examination of the ambiguities of diplomacy and morality in her book Strategic Moral Diplomacy (

Both of these authors hope that their books will help readers of any ideological stripe or religious faith to think about not only who and what they are, but more importantly, who and what they can become, help us to loosen the shackle of despair, fear and hatred and open ourselves to the truly infinite possibilities for good that we intrinsically possess.

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