Seldom has the end of one era and the beginning of another been marked so clearly as the one which ended on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. In retrospect if we compare what was before, the world of Sept. 10, 2001 seems to belong to some incredible time of calm and peace. On that day which changed the world, my wife and I were in America and we saw it all live on TV. The second plane hitting the tower, people fleeing in panic from what they did not understand, people in desperation throwing themselves from the doomed buildings and the Twin Towers themselves collapsing: There is no way anyone who saw those things can ever forget them. The images are now an inescapable and terrible part of our history.
The evil acts which produced those horrifying images are also now a part of history. Those acts must not be forgotten. They must be seen as a tragic signal to a world forced into confronting what it had previously managed to avoid. The signal tells us several things; the first is that the world, like it or not, must unite against terrorism. With one voice, the world must say “No to terrorism” and it must do what is necessary to guarantee there is no repetition of those hideous images.
Another message from the signal is that there is no grievance, no injustice and no oppression which can justify the murder of so many innocent people. No religion condones such meaningless slaughter and no individual worthy of being called “humane” can possibly agree to so barbarous a method of attracting attention. We see a total absence of religious feeling or morality in the acts.
The fact that those responsible for the attacks were allegedly our fellow Muslims and perhaps even our fellow Saudis should make us stop and ponder. We must ask ourselves for reasons. Who were these people? Why did they do what they did? What led them down that path? The first two questions are probably the easiest; it is the third which may take us into regions we do not want to visit and force us to ask unpopular questions which may give rise to even more unpopular answers. But this must be done – coolly, calmly and as unemotionally as possible. We must investigate and if, in the course of our investigation, we stumble upon things that are unpleasant or unpalatable, we must confront them as honestly and sincerely as we can and then act according to the principles and directions of our great religion, Islam.
One of the most important things we – and the rest of the world – can do is to educate our children very carefully. And I do not mean provide them with an education which produces narrow minds and self-satisfied individuals who feel themselves superior to every human being who is in the slightest way different. Our children and the children of the rest of the world must be taught to respect other religions, cultures and traditions and out of respect will come in time understanding and acceptance. There is no question of our losing our unique qualities and customs; there is no danger of that and that is not the purpose of education and could never be our aim. Education must seek to inform, to explain and to illuminate; its purpose is to broaden horizons, not constrict them. Education must make our children citizens of the world and not simply citizens of one particular place with no interest in, or knowledge of, the world beyond that place’s borders.
At the same time, those from outside the region, those who are neither Arab nor Muslim, must not generalize and smear all Muslims with a guilt which is not theirs. That the guilty called themselves Muslim does not mean that every Muslim shares that guilt; neither does it mean that because they called themselves Muslim, they were. Terrorism belongs to no religion, no creed, no sect, no ethnic group or culture. The most cursory glance at history will bear this out.
On this day which is a very sad one, we must think and reflect. We should think on why we believe those things happened and reflect upon how we can prevent them from happening again. In the midst of thinking and reflecting, we should not forget to reach out to those who have been most directly affected by the terrorist acts. The obvious ones are those who lost loved ones on that day but let us not forget that there are also those, much nearer to us in terms of distance than those in America, whose innocent and unsuspecting lives were torn apart by the events of that day. They too are entitled to our love, sympathy and understanding. I most certainly do not advocate excusing the guilty or diminishing their sins in any way; some of them have in fact already been punished and those who aided and abetted them must now be brought to justice. The world must see punishments meted out and those punishments must deter others who, for whatever reasons, might be tempted to follow the same path.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that the United States is a great country and its people are some of the best in the world. The country was founded upon the most admirable and noble principles of freedom, liberty and justice. We Arabs have always respected and admired those qualities and are always happy to encounter them in individual Americans. We do not want these qualities to change. The world needs to know that they exist and that they are honored. As America remembers its victims, we invite them to join us in a prayer. Let us all pray first for the victims and their families. Then we must pray that all the people of the world including the descendants of Adam, Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad share in their sorrow and that Almighty God grant us strength to act together and so prevent any future tragedy.
Khaled Almaeena is Editor-in-Chief of the Arab News.