The legacy of 9/11

Remember that sense of unity that existed in the days and weeks immediately after Sept. 11, 2001? The feeling that we were one nation, mourning, but ready to take on a common enemy? A decade later, that seems like a quaint notion, a black-and-white image from our distant past.

These days, our country is marked by division and public shouting matches. We argue about everything from war to taxes to evolution to breast feeding in public.

Good for us.

We’re no fans of incivility in public discourse. But we enthusiastically embrace the fact we have such broad and robust debates.

American politics and culture have always been raucous, brawling and full of heated rhetoric. But, with rare exceptions, they have never been constrained by fear of government or religion.

The attacks on 9/11 didn’t change that, despite how outraged Osama bin Laden and his suicidal followers were by the freewheeling, unfettered nature of the United States.

Al-Qaida envisioned a world where Sharia law would become the rule, not the exception. Where women would be covered head to foot, and treated like chattel by their male overlords. Where one religion — al-Qaida’s version of Islam — would be supreme.

They lost on that point. We complain about people wearing too little clothing, showing tattoos and piercings. But few of us would dream of passing laws telling other people what they should wear. And one supreme religion? Who’s going to tell the Baptists and Catholics, Jews and atheists, libertarians and libertines which version of God they must bow before?

Al-Qaida believed America would quake in its shoes once its citizens experienced a violent terrorist attack, that we would hide within our own boundaries and disengage from the world, that we would especially avoid entanglements in the Middle East.

They lost again. Instead of withdrawing, we engaged in two wars in al-Qaida’s home territory and relentlessly pursued bin Laden until he was cornered and killed, along with many other al-Qaida leaders. We argued then and now about the necessity and effectiveness of those wars, but no one can say we cowered from the terrorists.

Al-Qaida thought that the Muslim world would rise up to join its attack on Western values, democracy and modern culture.

That was another mistake. Despite the countless fanatical young men willing them to blow themselves up and murder others, the great mass of Muslims rejected them. They joined allied forces in response to al-Qaida excesses in Iraq. And throughout the Arab world, they are rising up against dictatorial regimes, demanding elections and basic rights.

In short, all that Osama bin Laden sought to accomplish on 9/11 has been a failure.

Yes, he and his minions killed many Americans a decade ago. We must never forget those murdered, or the brave firefighters, policemen and others who risked all to rescue them. We must also remember our military personnel who died in the subsequent wars.

We must remain vigilant against further attacks, allowing government the tools to protect us while maintaining civil liberties.

But we should also realize that the terrorists won nothing but some infamy on that horrible day 10 years ago.

We’re still the same United States we were before 9/11 — divided, disputatious, demanding — but able to come together with one purpose when events require us to do so.



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