I wrote this piece back in 2001 and submitted it as a letter to the editor to the Excalibur, York University’s student newspaper. Unfortunately, it was apparently too long to be published, which they informed me about two weeks later. So, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I think it is appropriate for me to post this now as a reflective memory of that day.
Shaken Foundations: Reflections on 9/11
In a speech on the night of the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush told us that though the foundations of a building can be shaken, the foundations of a nation cannot. In many ways, this is true. America will survive as a nation. Its commerce will continue to thrive. Its political and military apparatuses will march on. Yet, in other ways, the foundations are shaken.
I, for one, was shaken. I heard the horrific news of the plane crashes on the radio as I was driving on the 401 into York University. Like so many others, I almost couldn’t believe what I heard, and later, what I saw on TV. The feelings of shock and disbelief soon turned into sorrow and mourning. But before long my feelings turned into fear, perhaps, irrational fear. Echoing what so many others interviewed by the press and media said, I admit that my life was never the same again. As I scanned the faces of the many York students who crowded the television in the East Bear Pit watching the US memorial ceremony on Friday, Sept. 14th, I saw my own reflection. The same mixed feelings of sorrow, anguish, fear and anger were etched on their faces as they were on mine. We have all been shaken.
We have all been shaken in different ways. For some, their faith in humanity is shaken. For others, their faith in God. Yet maybe for some, their faith in themselves. But though our faith can be shaken, we cannot allow these terrorists to destroy our faith. Because if we do, then we have lost.
We need to grieve, yes. And mourn. But we cannot allow ourselves to enter a collective depression. We must work through the grieving process and emerge from the ashes stronger and, almost certainly, sadder. To wallow in a morbid, collective self-pity is to admit defeat.
That is why we needed rituals and ceremonies like the ones held on the day of mourning. We needed something to give us, at least temporarily, emotional, psychological and spiritual closure. I applaud the York University administration for holding a memorial service at the flagpole in the Commons. I joined the many York students, faculty and staff that afternoon in remembrance of the US victims. The lyrics of Susan Aglukark’s songs played and the words of Martin Luther King read for us touched me as, I am sure, it did many of those present. Although Inuit Aglukark and African-American King are both Christians, their words echo the finest aspirations of all religious faiths – love and unity for all.
Therefore, we cannot and should not respond in vengeance and hatred. We must seek justice but not revenge. Already the web of hatred is spreading: the Muslim Arab communities are threatened and fire-bombs have been thrown at mosques. We cannot fight evil with evil. The pressure is already mounting on the US administration to retaliate with a military strike that will make the Gulf War look like a backyard skirmish. As Afghanistan is the prime target at the moment, I fear for the innocent people there. I wonder how the children and women of Afghanistan must feel right now, those who have nothing to do with their current regime or with the prime suspect Osama bin Laden. If I could give a word to Bush, I would paraphrase pop star Sting’s lyrics, “I know the Afghans love their children too” (“Russians,” from the album Fields of Gold).
We cannot allow ourselves to become that which we hate. We cannot behave and act in violence like the terrorists. For if we do, then we have lost.
Bush said in another speech that this is a war between good and evil, and that good will prevail. Good will NOT prevail if we hate instead of love, if we divide instead of unite, if we see ‘good against evil’ as ‘us against them’. No one group of people have a monopoly on either goodness or evil. Good and evil runs right through the heart of every single one of us, regardless of race, culture, class, gender or religion. If good is to prevail, then we cannot stoop to the evil of these terrorists. If good is to triumph, we must not create barriers but we must strive to break down the walls that divide us.
Yes, we are shaken. The foundations of our faith, of our worldviews, are shaken. But we do not have to fall. We can still stand up to evil.
“All people of the world / It’s time to make the turn
A chance to share your heart/ To make a brand new start
And watch the walls come tumbling down
O siem / We are all family
O siem / We’re all the same
O siem / The fires of freedom
Dance in the burning flame”
(Susan Aglukark, “O Siem” from the album This Child)