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NETWORK's Reflection on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

Ten years ago, on September 11, we saw through NETWORK’s fourth-floor window the death-tinged black smoke that rose from the Pentagon.  On our office television we witnessed the horrors at the World Trade Center, and we also heard chilling reports that at least one more plane was aimed towards Washington.

Like the rest of the country—and the world—we were shocked by the sudden loss of thousands of lives in New York and Washington, and on the field in Pennsylvania. We grieved with the victims’ families.

Those memories will never disappear.

But this tenth anniversary provides a new opportunity to move beyond mere memories. It is time to reflect on what we have learned since that awful day—and to use our new knowledge as we turn toward the future.

In the years since 9/11, our country has engaged in two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both costly in dollars and in lives maimed and lost. We have spent billions of dollars on “homeland security” while surrendering rights and former freedoms in order to feel safer. Some of us have reached out to American Muslim communities while others of us have encouraged hate and discrimination. Most of us have become more aware of immigrants and refugees in our country.

And these are just a few examples of how this single day changed us as a nation.

Along the way, we now know there were many missed opportunities. Why didn’t we respond to the attacks by reaching out in a peaceful way to other Muslim countries?  As suggested by Sr. Joan Chittister, we could have said, “Don’t be afraid. We won’t hurt you. We know that this is coming only from a fringe of society and we ask your help in saving others from this same kind of violence.”

Why didn’t we listen to the leader in Jordan who spoke to a U.S. delegation in 2002? He told them that many in the Middle East had been puzzled by the violence of 9/11 and had thought that since Americans are problem-solvers, we would put our intellects to work to help the world understand the causes of such extremism. Instead, we went to war.

Why didn’t we stop the diverting of hundreds of billions of dollars into the war machine at a time when our nation’s economy was deteriorating, funding  of human needs programs was shrinking, and millions of people were losing their jobs?

But rather than moaning about what we did wrong, we can instead redouble our efforts to turn our nation from a culture of fear into one of caring for the common good.  We can work together to make this a nation that moves away from violence and toward the Gospel message of peace, forgiveness and compassion. It is through these actions that we will truly honor the memories of those we have lost while paving the way for a better tomorrow. Let us resolve now to make that happen.