On the 10th anniversary of 9/11: What we Affirm

Making Aliyah was the best decision I ever made and I am, to be sure, a passionate Zionist, and a proud citizen of the modern Jewish state. In Jerusalem I was married, and it is in Israel where, G-d willing, we’ll be blessed to raise children who will equally love Israel with all of their hearts.

I am also, however, to be sure, an American-Israeli.  And, though 6000 miles away from the place I called home for over 40 years, and where my entire family and my closest friends still live, my affection for the land which welcomed my poor Eastern European Jewish grandparents  – who merely yearned to breath free – to her shores has not waned.  

I still am moved by the Star Spangled Banner, inspired by the heroism of American veterans who have sacrificed so much to advance the cause of liberty in the world, and understand how historically exceptional the freedom and prosperity which Americans continue to enjoy truly is.

And, ten years after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the images of destruction and human suffering on that fateful day are still seared in my mind.

It is, of course, correct to affirm that America is not perfect, and that not every conflict is black and white. However, such a sober understanding of our political reality should not give way to the pathos of suggesting that there’s anything resembling a moral equivalence between the innocent victims of terrorist attacks and the perpetrators of such wanton violence.

As my job is to monitor the Guardian I’ve been exposed to far, far too much commentary advancing such comparisons – those who deny the inherent superiority maintained by the freedom of democracy over the tyranny of nihilism. 

However, as 9/11 is, and should always be, a solemn day, instead of combating those, at the Guardian and elsewhere, who advance such ideas it seems far more appropriate to simply state what I affirm.  

On Thursday night, The New Republic, in partnership with the Kennedy Center and the Pentagon, commemorated the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. The event (which can be viewed in its entirety here) was capped with remarks by Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic’s literary editor, on what Americans affirm.  

Wieseltier is a truly gifted writer, whose eloquence and erudition has been an inspiration to me in attempting to elevate my day-to-day (far less than expansive and comprehensive) polemics, and my far less than artful blogging prose.  

So, I will simply post his remarks in full without further commentary.

Though we encounter it as suffering, grief is in fact an affirmation. The indifferent do not grieve, the uncommitted do not grieve, the loveless do not grieve. We mourn only the loss of what we have loved and what we have valued, and in this way mourning darkly refreshes our knowledge of the causes of our loves and the reasons for our values. Our sorrow restores us to the splendors of our connectedness to people and to principles. It is the yes of a broken heart. In our bereavement we discover how much was ruptured by death, and also how much was not ruptured. These tears lead directly to introspection.

Here is what we affirmed by our mourning on September 11, 2001, and by the introspection of its aftermath: 

that we wish to be known, to ourselves and to the world, by the liberty that we offer, axiomatically, as a matter of right, to the individuals and the groups with whom we live;

that the ordinary lives of ordinary people on an ordinary day of work and play can truthfully exemplify that liberty, and fully represent what we stand for; 

that we will defend ourselves, resolutely and even ferociously, because self-defense is also an ethical responsibility, and that our debates about the proper use of our power in our own defense should not be construed as an infirmity in our will; 

that the multiplicity of cultures and traditions that we contain peaceably in our society is one of our highest accomplishments, because we are not afraid of difference, and because we do not confuse openness with emptiness, or unity with conformity;

that a country as vast and as various as ours may still be experienced as a community;

that none of our worldviews, with God or without God, should ever become the worldview of the state, and that no sanctity ever attaches to violence;

that the materialism and the self-absorption of the way we live has not extinguished our awareness of a larger purpose, even if sometimes they have obscured it; 

that we believe in progress, at home and abroad, in social progress, in moral progress, even when it is fitful and contested and difficult; 

that just as we have enemies in the world we have friends, and that our friends are the individuals and the movements and the societies that aspire, often in circumstances of great adversity, to democracy and to decency.   

It has been a wounding decade. Our country is frayed, uncertain, inflamed. There is hardship and dread in the land. In significant ways we are a people in need of renovation. But what rouses the mourner from his sorrow is his sense of possibility, his confidence in the intactness of the spirit, his recognition that there is work to be done. What we loved and what we valued has survived the disaster, but it needs to be secured and bettered, and in that secure and better condition transmitted to our children. Our dream of greatness must be accompanied by an understanding of what is required for the maintenance of greatness. The obscenities of September 11, 2001 exposed the difference between builders and destroyers. We are builders. Let us agree, on this anniversary, that it is an honor to be an American and it is an honor to be free.


18 replies »

  1. I am reminded of the statue commemorating Iwo Jama in WWII.

    May the memories of all the dead be as a blessing to their families and friends and to us all.

  2. While I cannot imagine that here in the UK we will be anything like as eloquent when the 10th anniversary of 7/7(05) comes round, I hope that it will not be forgotten that, for good or ill, Britain and the US have stood shoulder to shoulder throughout the 20th century and into the 21st: through two world wars, in Korea, in Gulf Wars 1 and 2, in Libya and hopefully beyond.

    We may disagree in detail, but we agree in principle as to what good government means, what liberty is all about and I can only hope that, collectively, we shall “not go quietly into that good night” as our democracies and our liberties are threatened by those who value them not.

    Even if we do not accept her politics, we accept the attitude of La Pasionara, the voice of the Spanish Republic between 1936 and 1939, when she declared of the Fascists, “No Pasaron”: they shall not pass.

  3. Sadly, when I followed the link to the event, it had been disabled. Shame, I was looking forward to watching, although I’m not sure that “looking forward” is exactly the right phrase to use.

  4. The moment that I heard about the first plane crashing into Tower 1 is indelibly seared into my mind.

    My co-worker in the office adjoining mine said “a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” I said “are you kidding?” He said, “no, I’m not.” I immediately got out of my chair and went to my boss’s office where there was a cable-connected TV. The second tower had been hit and CNN’s analyst was confirming that it was definitely a terrorist attack.

  5. Michael, I was working all day and didn’t hear about it until I got home from work, threw down my bags, switched on the TV to be met by…. horror.

    Among many other images, seared into my mind forever will be the rows of empty ambulances, sent out immediately in the hope that there would be survivors, however badly injured. G-d bless those first responders, my fellow psychologists and psychotherapists who took unpaid leave to try to help them and the families and friends of those who were murdered deal with the trauma, and everyone who prayed, gave money and time to show that in spite of that infamy there was still good in the world.

    But as for those who rejoiced, the animals who danced for joy and handed out sweets and cakes when they heard of the deaths, may they be repaid in the same coin and everyone who felt glad about the carnage of 9/11 get his/her just desserts. Bin Laden, at long last, got what he deserved. May anyone who excused it or who blamed it on any other people but those responsible and everyone who helped or sided with them live long enough to rue it.

  6. Sadly the fanatical group of imbeciles called ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ is planning to disrupt the events tomorrow in London.

    • “Muslims Against Crusades”

      Get over 9/11, said Ahmed Rehab of CAIR, yet they can’t get over something that happened more than 900 years ago.

    • And they did, Gerald.


      (Good photography, particularly of the idiot who spat at the camera as our gallant policemen were marching him away. Proof positive that if we give ’em enough rope, metaphorically speaking, they’ll hang themselves. What Muslim, let alone non-Muslim would want such a shower running this country?).

      Note that, according to the article, there was a counter demonstration by another Muslim group which did the equivalent of accusing them of lowering the tone of Islam.

      • HairShirt my first reaction when I first read of the plan by that group of repugnant idiots to hold their demonstration was to wonder why the Mayor of London wasn’t going to ban it.
        I’ve looked at the online coverage in the papers this morning and I think a lot of people will be driven to anger not only be their deeply insensitive actions in demonstrating yesterday, but also by some of the placards. “ISLAM WILL DOMINATE THE WORLD” and another one that started “DEMOCRACY IS HYPOCRISY ………”
        But, I am still persuaded that because of the inevitable reaction to the antics of these clowns their demonstration should have been banned along with their group.

  7. I was coming home after dropping off my son at grade school and turned on the radio. At that time they seemed to think that it might have been an accident – horrific, to be sure, but an accident. And then the second plane hit.

    All that day, it was hard to believe, and yet we had to believe it. And it was hard to explain to my young son when I picked him up. Now I know how my mother felt when President Kennedy was murdered and she had three young children.

  8. I popped out of the office for a cup of tea around lunch time that never to be forgotten day. It was a sunny day as I walked up to a sandwich bar where I normally sat down to read a paper. The radio was on and Doug told me that on the news they announced earlier that a plane had gone into the WTC. My first thoughts were that building so high had its hazards and hoped that everyone was OK and that there should not be many casualties. As I was sitting there waiting, the news was back on saying that “another” plane had crashed. For a moment I thought this was a replay of older news, but the voice of the announcer was higher pitched and a little more urgent. I walked to another shop, which had a small TV on and watched in horror the WTO with wisps of fire and smoke standing in the morning sun. It had to be a terrorist attack and not a coincidence. If that was not enough, the news came that another plane had gone into the Pentagon and the later announcement of another plane crash. Putting it all together, what happened that day, what were we to make of it? It still somewhere makes no sense.

  9. Let us agree, on this anniversary, that it is an honor to be an American and it is an honor to be free.

    And this has what exactly to do with alleged anti-Semitism at the Guardian?

    • Are there any other blogs you demand keep 100% to their topic, Pretz? Is not even the tenth anniversary of the Twin Towers attack important enough for a blog, any kind of blog, to devote a thread to it?

  10. Of course it is right to commemorate the memory of those brutally, and cowardly, killed during the September 11th attacks.
    Those of us in the UK should never forget the memory of the 67 UK citizens murdered in those attacks.
    Neither should we forget the muderous and twisted ideology behind those attacks.

  11. True, but this is what the Metropolitan police allowed, outside the American embassy on 9/11


    These are scum, the lowest form of pond life, and yet the police were more concerned that the EDL might cause a disturbance by confronting them than they were about the offence these scum must have given to those mourning their friends and families after the biggest terror attack ever in the name of Islam. Such are the depths to which those who govern the UK have sunk. Will the last one to leave the UK please turn out the lights.