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Remember the Victims

My heart goes out to those who lost friends and loved ones in the 11 September terrorist attacks. I hope they can, over time, achieve closure and healing.

In the weeks since 11 September 2001, when terrorists hijacked four airliners and crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it has become fashionable for United States citizens to be patriotic and to be supportive of emergency personnel. At many retail outlets, flags have sold out, as have red, white, and blue bunting and ribbon; flag designs have been printed in newspapers so persons without access to a flag can still show the flag in their windows. Statues and murals honoring fire fighters and police officers have sprung up everywhere. Dozens of touching photographic essays of memorials held around the world in sympathy with the United States have been created. So many have volunteered that the Red Cross can no longer handle them all: it is sending the volunteers to the Salvation Army.

United States flag I, the Brian behind Brian’s Casio Calculator Corner, am a United States citizen, living in the New England region of the United States. I am displaying an image of the United States flag on the entry page of this web site to show my support for my country. Although the emotion of the moment is to give terrorists megaton suppositories — an emotion I fully understand, and to an extent share — I want to caution my fellow citizens against jingoism, and particularly against turning the United States into the monster it is fighting. “My country, right or wrong” is like “my mother, sober or drunk:” while I still love my country when it is wrong, I would greatly prefer for it to be right.

I have heard the United States referred to as “the great Satan” by so-called Islamic militant leaders — leaders who pervert the peaceful message of Islam. My partner — a minister — reminds us that Satan is not a warrior, not a fighter, but a tempter. To the so-called Islamic militant leaders, the United States is a tempter, a very dangerous tempter: the political and economic freedoms taken for granted in the United States and other free nations are indeed a most potent threat to their tyrannies. You cannot for long tyrannize a people that yearns for freedom; the simple example of the United States shows tyrannized peoples everywhere that freedom is possible; and the knowledge that freedom is possible causes the oppressed to yearn for it.

The twentieth century saw the overthrow of several empires. At least two of these empires — the British and the Soviet — were overthrown not by force of arms, but by the simple knowledge of their peoples that freedom is possible. The United States clearly must protect itself against terrorist attack. But it must not, in so doing, tyrannize itself. The individual political and economic liberties that make the United States a beacon of freedom are themselves threats to tyrannies. These freedoms are our greatest vulnerabilities. These freedoms are also our greatest strengths and most potent weapons. These we must not lose.

We must not impose Christianity as a national religion in the name of opposing Islam. To the terrorists, our robust diversity of faiths is far more a threat than would be another state religion. We must not stifle our free press and free speech by calling dissent aid and comfort to the enemy. To the terrorists, our freedom to dissent is far more a threat than would be another controlled press and populace yammering in unison. We must not strip privacy from our citizens in the name of aiding antiterrorist activities. To the terrorists, the privacy we enjoy is far more a threat than would be another thought controlled regime. We must not streamline criminal prosecution into an administrative system, rather than a judicial one, nor remove the limitations on the gathering and handling of evidence. To the terrorists, our example of our fair trials, using only evidence gathered while honoring human dignity and individual rights, is far more a threat than would be another kangaroo court system. We must not presume guilt based on national origin. To the terrorists, the ability to see others as individuals is far more a threat than would be another nation who can see only members of a people. We will not — we cannot — defeat our enemies by becoming them.

The victims of the terrorists were killed precisely because they were free. Let us remember them — and let us honor that memory by maintaining the freedoms for which they died.

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Copyright © 2001 Brian Hetrick
Page last updated 22 October 2001.

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