Reflection on 09/11/2001 Written 09/14/2001

Thursday, September 11, 2003



Today, 09/11/2003, is the second year anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and a portion of the Pentagon.

The following is my thoughts drafted in a word document and saved on my hard-drive on 09/14/2001.

Some explanatory notes may be in order.

At the time, we did not yet know who did this or why, and we hoped that there were still people alive in the twin towers.

We were asking why people hate us, and the news was showing Arabs dancing in the streets.

People were frightened and though there was a great outpouring of heroism and kindness across the country, and the churches were full, there was also a good deal of blame and finger pointing going around that many may have forgotten by now. Even those who died on the planes were blamed of cowardice by a tiny minority of people. The argument was that they should have attacked the highjackers.

At the time, nobody knew or anticipated that we were about to go into an unprovoked and unjust war with a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11 less than three years later.

Without further comment, here were my thoughts on 09/14/2001.

Since about 9:30 A.M. on September 11, 2001, I have been feeling sick to my stomach and bewildered about the events of the terrorist attack on the United States that occurred that morning. So many thoughts and questions are forming in my mind. I feel so much sadness for the families of those injured, and disbelief for our country and what this means to our way of life.

The massive injury and loss of human life is unfathomable. We are all saddened and our deepest sympathies are with the family and survivors. It is hard to think about this for even moment without tears coming to my eyes.

Furthermore, the nation as a whole has lost a naive sense of invulnerability. The very symbols of our wealth and strength are leveled. It is hard to imagine New York City without the twin towers. While the economic damage cannot compare to the loss of even a single human life, the economic damage is also truly immense.

On the news, I heard Peter Jennings asking pointed questions of CIA directors. I heard a friend question whether rescue workers were doing enough to save lives. I received an email from another friend musing over why the passengers in the planes did not overpower the terrorists. I've heard co-workers muse over lax airport security's responsibility. I'm sure others are asking similar questions.

We need to come together and avoid blaming one another right now.

When I first heard the terrorists used box cutters, I asked myself the same question that others ask: why didn't the passengers try to overpower the hijackers?

It occurred to me that in the narrow confines of an airplane, only two or three people at a time could get to the person holding the box cutter. Assuming there were more than one person holding such weapons, you might try to overpower one terrorist while the other cut your throat, and other passengers would not be able to get through the aisle to help.

I am reminded of a story I read in college about a soldier who single-handedly held off an army in some ancient war fought with swords, because he was defending a bridge only wide enough for one person to cross at a time. I also doubt that the passengers realized that the hijackers planned to wreck the plane. At least one of the hijackers had to be piloting the plane, leaving the passengers feeling helpless.

My point is that we can't blame the passengers for this travesty, or assume that they were cowards. I suspect many passengers were dead before the crash due to struggles with the hijackers. The terrorists, and the terrorists alone, are responsible for this atrocity -- not the passengers of the planes!

There is the question of how the airport security, the CIA, FBI, and so forth didn't know about this ahead of time. But we can't know for sure how many other terrorists' plans have been thwarted throughout the years -- precisely because they haven't happened. I would not be surprised to discover that the US government doesn't broadcast stuff like that since they don't want people panicked.

We do know that they caught some terrorists in years past that made the papers, and we can't know how many other attempts were made prior to this.

As much as we all feel the need to blame someone in the US for a failure of security and we want to believe it could have prevented, I think the terrorist have succeeded in showing the world that any security system is vulnerable, no matter how perfectly security is employed.

This is a terrifying feeling - that we can't possibly control this, or stop it from happening again. Yet, this is the truth we all must face.

We will learn from what happened, and security will improve. However, we will always be somewhat vulnerable. This is the fear that America will now need to assimilate in our way of life.

This is new territory for us. Other nations have dealt with such fears for ages. Moreover, we must also avoid allowing the police the power to infringe on the very freedom that we enjoy and wish to defend.

I hear news reports that there was dancing in the streets of Arab countries. Who is not enraged by such reports? Who does not suspect Arab influence in these attacks?

Part of me remembers how we wrongly blamed Arabs for the Oklahoma City bombing. I want the American people and our government, to be extra careful not to jump to conclusions. Persons and people are entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is an American value that sets us apart from the enemies that we are fighting!

The investigation into what happened should be done with painstaking attention to detail, accuracy, fairness and objectivity.

No matter where the investigation leads, we must also remember to treat our Arab neighbors here in America with the same dignity, acceptance, rights, and respect that we would want if we were working in their countries.

We must also remember that Americans do live in the Middle East as these events are unfolding.

Furthermore, basic respect for human rights in our nation is just the right thing to do! We must avoid vandalism, threats, and attacks on our fellow citizens and guests of this country who are of Arab decent.

Yet, I must admit that the very fact that there were Arab people who were dancing in the streets in the Middle East fuels my ire. I'm ideologically a pacifist, but I have to confess that my emotional response to this dancing is that I want America to hurt these people who were dancing -- and hurt them badly -- whether they were involved or not in the actual attack.

But I also know that acting or encouraging others to act on these feelings is morally wrong.

This anger is a normal emotional response, and one many of us share. President Bush spoke to the nation acknowledging our "quiet unyielding anger". Yet, our emotions must be channeled and guided in effective and appropriate ways if we are to preserve our freedom.

Intellectually, I know that responding to violence with more violence only continues the cycle of violence. The anger I feel right now is not as deep as my heart-felt conviction that people like Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., or Gandhi have historically shown us better ways to deal with conflict.

America has always been a country striving to actualize a high idealism. The events of September 11, 2001 tempt us to make exceptions to our own native idealism. We must avoid the temptation to become what we despise in our enemies. The terrorists win if we stoop to their level, playing by their rules, and becoming like them.

Thus, I hope that America finds the strength and resolve to temper justice and vengeance with mercy and compassion. I hope that we do not act on our own collective anger - an anger I share.

Jesus taught us to bless and pray for our enemies, and to show mercy and forgiveness to those who persecute us. As hard as mercy is right now, we must pray for the perpetrators.

Instead of hasty judgment, I hope we take the time to be absolutely sure we know who did this, and use the least amount of force necessary to bring only those directly involved to right justice. We must avoid the temptation to inflict collateral damage among civilians around the terrorists to warn off future attacks.

While everyone desires swift justice, we must not be so hasty as to implement rash judgment that is really an injustice.

I do hope that despite our rage, we will find it within ourselves to use our technological advantages to capture the perpetrators of this act alive, bring them to a just and fair trial, and avoid the temptation to implement a death penalty. What a message this would send to the world!

If we can capture and imprison those involved with no collateral damage, America would serve justice while simultaneously setting an example for non-violent problem resolution. We did it with Manuel Noriega, and we should do it again.

I am ideologically opposed to capital punishment, even for such a horrendous crime as this. While I felt deep sympathy for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, I was opposed to the execution of Timothy Mcveigh, and I signed petitions against it.

We should not allow a confrontation with evil to drag us down to the level of acting like those we oppose. Jesus Christ was executed by the state. As the Bible encourages, we must conquer evil with good.

Once, I was in a club when a very muscular man began swinging fists at me. I thought he was crazy and completely irrational. Being much smaller, I would have had a hard defending myself against this apparently unjust aggression.

A large friend of mine grabbed the man and held him. He was held long enough for us to find out that he swung his fist at me because he thought that I had hit his girlfriend with my own fist. I had not hit her. His girlfriend confirmed that someone else had hit her. Had I hit her, I imagine his attack on me would have been justified. Once we understood what happened, the issue was resolved.

In relating this story, I am saying that what appears to be unjust aggression sometimes needs to be understood in order to be resolved.

As difficult as it is, I think that we all need to try to truly understand the support for terrorists in Arab nations and elsewhere. Nobody raised in the West, including myself, wants the terrorists to "win". Yet, if we are ever going to stop these atrocious acts, we who live in America, whether citizens or guests, must try to understand what we have done that would cause people to dance in the streets at the news that hundreds or thousands of our civilian people were killed.

This does not mean that we fail to bring the persons responsible to justice. Nor does it mean that we attempt to justify and rationalize acts of terrorism against us. Nor does it mean that we concede to terrorists' demands and become a doormat to small groups of potential psychotics.

It does mean that we begin to try to understand our own responsibility in terms of how we have hurt others, and we begin to change our behavior to take away the sociological, political, and economic excuses for terrorism.

For example, I support our Israeli allies, but we need to scrutinize whether any claims of human rights abuses against Palestinians have merit. We need to work harder at finding a solution to the problems in the Middle East that Arabs, as well as Jews and Americans can accept. We need to provide demonstrable evidence to Arabs that we have heard their concerns.

There has been talk in the news that we need to increase "human intelligence" in the CIA and FBI. Aside from the fact that information gained from human intelligence is unreliable, we must be aware of the moral dilemma of asking Americans to infiltrate terrorist organizations.

What if an American spy must kill an innocent person in order to gain the trust of the inner-circle of terrorist?

What if the CIA slides into assassination tactics, and begins to use terrorism as the weapon of choice against terrorism? Will we end terrorism by joining terrorists?

I do not think so.

Perhaps it was such tactics during the cold war that partially lead to what happened September 11, 2001.

Some anti-American sentiment may be provoked by simple jealousy of our material wealth, or a childish spite against our military prowess.

However, America must face the fact that we are also perceived to have supported unjust government regimes in very recent history. We are perceived as having exploited economies of developing nations. Historically, America has supported slavery of Africans. Many of our ancestors participated in genocide against Native Americans. Is it really any wonder that some people hate us if these accusations have any merit?

We must look closely and honestly at our current foreign policy and business practices to determine whether, when, where, and how we may be repeating and continuing our collective moral failures of the past.

We also must take an honest look at forces in our culture that promote the personal immorality so despised by our Muslim sisters and brothers. We value personal freedom. Yet, we place such an individualistic spin on our interpretation of liberty that we have witnessed a decline in family values through the years. I am no conservative, and I understand that family takes many forms. But some of us are so self-centered that we do not value any kind of family.

America is a consumerist culture that has the greatest gap between rich and poor. America has one of the highest violent crime rates in the developed world. We have high divorce rates, high abortion rates, and high drug consumption rates compared to much of the world.

We also sin socially. We pollute our environment more than some nations. Racism persists strongly in our nation. Prayer and religion are removed from public discourse. Pornography and violence fills our airwaves.

Again, is it any wonder that people of strong religious conviction do not wish to be influenced by our way of life? No matter what we think of God and religion and Islam, we must acknowledge that our culture and society has some ethical and moral problems needing to be addressed.

While the cultural differences between us and Islamic nations do not justify terrorism, we need to ask ourselves if we are really the "beacon" that President Bush says we are. To the extent we are to blame ourselves, we are all at fault for our social and personal sins.

If we feel that we need to blame Americans for this travesty, it is not just the CIA, FBI, or airport security that we need to blame. We must all repent.

One way of combating terrorism may be to examine our way of life and eradicate the immoral aspects despised so much in the developing world where traditional family values still have meaning. It is easier for extremist to dehumanize us in their minds when we act less than human ourselves.

It is possible that the actual persons directly responsible for the current tragic events in New York City and Washington, DC are simply psychotic. It is possible, and even probable, that our morality did nothing to directly provoke these despicable acts. It is possible that despite any political or religious rhetoric, these people are just evil. The acts the terrorists carried out are absolutely unjustifiable, whatever their religious or political motives!

Taking innocent human lives is always and everywhere morally offensive, and Islam acknowledges this, as does Western Christianity. "Islam" literally means "peace". I am a Catholic Christian, but I feel that we need to understand our Islamic sisters and brothers.

At the same time, no matter how hard we try to understand anti-American sentiment, we do not need to try to justify or rationalize terrorism.

Perhaps the terrorists are the ultra-magnified adult version of the toddler who knocks down his sibling's blocks, or the teenager who spray paints graffiti on a bridge, the bully on the playground, or the teenage gang member.

Perhaps we will never fully understand the mentality of an individual person who can fly a plane into 110-story building in any rational terms.

I do not believe that we need to waste too much time trying to understand the individual terrorist him or herself, except to gain an understanding of how to apprehend and prevent terrorists.

Yet, America must make the effort to understand those people and nations who dance in the streets when the individual terrorist succeeds!

Why does a nation and a people cheer them?

Why do terrorists find support among otherwise ordinary people?

Until we do understand this, we will continue to have a war against a faceless enemy we cannot stop, control, or conquer.

The dead passengers of the planes, the CIA, the FBI, the airport security, the military, and the police and rescue workers are our own, and we should not seek to blame them individually. We should not treat them as the enemy, no matter what. If Americans are at fault, it is not some of us that are at fault, but all of us.

We must examine ourselves as a whole to determine what lead up to this, and how we will respond together.

We must come together in this nation, whether citizen or guest, and pray for peace and pray for the victims and their families. We must encourage our government to focus its current efforts on saving lives still trapped in those buildings, rather than inflicting too swift a justice. We must do what we each can to help the victims with material and physical aid. Our deepest sympathies are with all the victims.

I know that it can sound trite to say that we need to turn to God in times like these. Yet, I believe that we all feel this, and it is what is necessary. They say there are no atheists in fox holes. I am not hearing atheists criticize America's desire to turn to prayer over the past couple of days. There can be no question that what happened yesterday has moral implications. In times of moral crisis, we must turn to the source of morality.

President Bush was right to quote Psalm 23: "Though I walk through the valley of death, You are at my side". In these times of fear, anger, despair, and sadness, God is our only hope and refuge. We must pray for guidance. We must pray for healing for the victims. We must pray for mercy and understanding towards our enemies. Finally, we must avoid the temptation to blame each other for this tragedy. Together, America can get through this, and we will get through this!


Since I wrote this piece two years ago, I have read the Q'ran and come to know Muslims much better, both in person and on the web. I found that Islam is more complex than I naively assumed above, even identifying the word "Islam" with "Peace" (which is not an exact translation).

There is a strong violent strain or undercurrent in Islam that finds no parallel in contemporary Christianity. It is also true that there are what might be "progressive" Muslims, moderates, scholarly conservatives, and there are a large portion of Muslims, who, like anyone else, are just trying to live their day-to-day lives. Christians share much in common with the average Muslim, and most Muslims are peaceful people with a proud heritage.

On the one hand, I still believe Muslims deserve respect and we need to understand Islam better in the West. We need ecumenical dialogue and prayer with Muslims. Yet, anyone dealing with Islam who does not try to understand and accept the violent strain that is different than even fundamentalist Christianity, and shrugs it off as an irrelevant minority view, is ignoring reality. There are some similar personality traits between fundamentalist Christians and radical Islam, and even similar ways of approaching religious truth.

Yet, a fundamentalist Christian is always stuck with a conflict with Jesus if he or she advocates violence and wants to remain a literalist with texts. A fundamentalist Muslim is stuck with both the text of the Q'ran and the example of Mohamed that justifies killing innocent civilians in Sura 8.7-10. The passage describes the slaughter of an unarmed band of unbelievers for Allah's glory. Mohamed also oversaw the be-heading of over 800 Jews in Medina, and often fought in battles. One cannot be a fundamentalist with Islamic texts and be a pacifist, while one cannot be a hawkish warrior by reading the New Testament literally. As much as I suppport ecumenism, we cannot have dialogue if we ignore the position of others rather than acknowledging it.

I have also come to question Israel more than I did two years ago in the above essay. I confess that I am somewhat a zionist at heart. I am looking for the restoration of the Biblical land of Jesus' kinsmen through some peaceful inbreaking of the reign of God.

Yet, this zionist leaning is no justification for wrongs against the Palestinians. At the time I wrote this, I thought the Palestinians and Israel were both guilty of wrongs. In my mind at the time, I believed the Palestinians were more wrong than Israel, even if both were wrong. I question that assumption these days, especially with Ariel Sharon. Maybe Israel is the greater terror.

I also was suspicious of the CIA and FBI back in 2001, though it is not apparent above. There was a wave of patriotism right after 9/11 that left progressives a little frightened to say exactly what some of thought. I wrote for distribution to friends by email, and I really did not want to fight people about the CIA in the the days immediately following 9/11, as my purpose was to say we need stop blaming individuals and groups and look at ourselves - all of us.

My suspicions have grown and intensified since 09/11/2001, and I wished I had spoken out more frocefully then. I am also very suspicious of the newly formed DHS, as well as John Ashcroft's office too. I believe civil liberties are being trampled, and america is in danger of losing its freedom. Furthermore, I believe the CIA, by supporting dictators and covert ops created the situation where terrorism was bred and directed against the U.S.

I also wish I had written more about active non-violent resistance and prayer for peace. It is not too late for the latter. If you aren't doing so, please pray for peace.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 2:54 PM

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by