Skip to main content

Thoughts for 9/11

“Grief is the price we pay for love” said the Queen of England as she struggled to make sense of the outrageous crimes that took place twelve years ago today. Grief then must be at the centre of our thoughts today- grief for those who we lost – and grief too for the loss of what they would have achieved had they not been taken from us. But like patriotism, grief is no longer enough.

Ours is a grief that must be limited by hope, shaped by reflection, and overcome  by prudence. 9/11 was and remains as much a challenge not only to our characters but to our intellects. We pay no tribute to the dead by retreating into hatred or crazy conspiracy theories.

It is sometimes claimed that there is nothing to be said in the face of death. This website is not a place where such assertions can be confronted at length. But let me simply say that I for one am confident that the promises of all the worlds’ religions have not been made in vain.

However the death of thousands in such circumstances does not simply concern individuals. It must also give rise to questions about the circumstances which brought about the event in which they died – which our sorrow, our anger, and our grief, must not prevent us from asking.

What should our response be to the rise of a terrorism grounded in Islam- a terrorism that is still a threat to others and to ourselves?

  1. We need- I suggest- to decide how far, if at all, we should sacrifice our civil liberties- hard won since the seventeenth century- in order to make future attacks less likely?
  2. We also need to ask how our defences should be changed in the light of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, and tight budgetary conditions?
  3. We need also to consider whether or not the foreign policies of The United States, The European Union, and The United Kingdom, should be changed to reduce the terrorist threat? For example should Turkey be welcomed into The European Union as a secular state; or excluded as an Islamic one?

This naturally leads to a consideration of

  • how far how the terrorism we are concerned with is caused by the nature of Islam, or the social and economic conditions in the Middle East?
  • If the social conditions are to blame, how can we best alleviate them? By working with the local elites, or by promoting democracy and capitalism more vigorously? Or should we adopt some combination of these approaches? And if so what should it be? And above all what part should military intervention in the Middle East have in the promotion of our our goals?
  • If we are serious about promoting stability and prosperity in the Middle East we must ask ourselves some hard questions about the future of Israel. Is Israel an important model of the rule of law and democracy in an unstable region? Or is its very existence the cause of, or at least a contributory factor to,  the threats that we face? And if so should we modify our support for Israel in response to these threats? Where, in this respect, does prudence end and cowardice begin?
  • We need also to ask if Israel is an important, even vital, place of safety for the world’s Jews? Or has it become a place of danger in which they are trapped in an environment that will always be hostile?

The best eulogy that we can pronounce over the graves of  those who were murdered on that terrible day twelve years ago is to ensure that our discussions of these troubling issues are informed, wide ranging, and courteous. It is only by having such debates that we can we decide what is best to do, and so avoid discovering that folly is the price we will pay for our thoughtlessness.

This is a  revised version of a piece first published in 2011