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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Editorial: A nation taken aback begins to look forward Editorial: A nation taken aback begins to look forward (September 19, 2001)

After a week of televised horrors, grief and outrage, we look to the future with determination, a renewed sense of hope

Almost every one of us knew someone connected to the World Trade Center towers or Pentagon tragedies Sept. 11 -- those who narrowly escaped, witnesses, victims, or family members or friends of victims.

The rest of us were connected simply by the shock and horror of the unthinkable: the sacrifice of innocent airline crews and passengers and office workers just to score a symbolic point in the politics of fanaticism and hate.

Yet amid the millions of words written and spoken, and the thousands of searing images of catastrophe and pain and exhaustion are words and images of hope and affirmation.

The courage of the rescuers will go down as a great moment in time -- and this may encompass the 60 or so members of the rescue team of the Menlo Park Fire District awaiting a call to one of the most hazardous rescue scenes in history. Our thoughts and hearts go with these friends and neighbors on their sad mission.

We as a nation will long recall this wave of incredible solidarity, our coming together in our shock and grief and outrage -- expressing itself in patriotic displays of flags, moments of national silence and candlelit walks in the evenings of our great sorrow. This solidarity rivals the national outrage of Pearl Harbor and the nation's joy of the Victory-in-Europe and Victory-in-Japan days of more than a half century past.

Of course it will not last. We must return to business, and part of that business is the political dialogue on national, state and local issues and directions. Yet we will remember it for some time, and it may be that the remembrance will make us the better for it -- perhaps moving us past the era of excessively petty partisanship in which we have been locked for so many years.

But beyond the flags, beyond national boundaries something deeper has occurred that we as a nation should also remember. It did not get the endlessly repeated exposure of the planes crashing into the towers, nor did it have the hypnotic pathos of the stories of the victims and heroism of the rescuers.

This deeper occurrence was the briefly shown images of empathy and shared outrage from around the world -- the church services of all denominations, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and many others that have more in common than most of us know; the quiet memorials and spontaneous demonstrations not just among traditional allies but in Communist China and nations of the Middle East; the statements of support and solidarity from leaders around the world, including nations with past links to terrorist activities.

The solidarity has been marred in some ways, remarkably few. There have, sadly, been instances of taunts and even assaults on Muslims and persons of Middle Eastern or East Indian ancestry (such as Sikhs, who have no relation to Muslims but are from northern India).

Such lashings out, and the attitudes in which they are rooted, make as much sense as blaming all white Christians for the actions of Timothy McVeigh and accomplices in the catastrophic April 19, 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Those who assault innocent persons differ only in degree from the fanatics who orchestrated the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. There is no excuse for such deeds, and they must not be tolerated in our society, or anywhere else. This new attack has provided us a great clarity: that injustice is never justifiable.

Finally, as America prepares for an all-out (if technically undeclared) war against stealthy and obscure foes, let us not forget that one of our greatest weapons against terrorism is the kind of international solidarity that has been demonstrated in the past week -- and our leaders seem, so far, to recognize that restraint is a vital element of the response if such solidarity is to be preserved.

As we proceed, we must also guard against sacrificing in the name of security either our national commitment to democracy or our cherished personal freedoms of expression, movement and privacy. Such freedoms are the foundation stones of our nation. Their sacrifice would be an ultimate national loss, and an ultimate victory for our terrorist enemies.

Terrorism wherever it occurs must be seen as an international crime against humanity -- and terrorists as international outlaws who must be given no sanctuary -- before we can achieve a world that knows true peace, security, justice and freedom.


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