Some would suggest that the best way to honor the victims is to carry on normally, in a defiant gesture to the terrorists who aimed to loose our moorings, forcing us to drift on a sea of uncertainty, further and further from “normal.” Were I a member of this school of thought, I would take care of business. For instance, I could alert you to the fact that the expense account for Project III is now complete and is available for viewing here. Or, I could mention that the speech I delivered at Juilliard on Wednesday has now been added to the essay section of the website.
But normal feels a little silly on this day, and I agree with Frank Rich in the New York Times that we were too quick to try to return to normalcy after 9/11. Similarly, we have been too quick to stake out political positions that invoke the tragedy of that day. I doubt the thousands who died five years ago would be pleased by the divisive domestic political climate or the rancorous international feelings towards America that have followed in the wake of their deaths.
In the end, it is right and just that we draw lessons from 9/11, though hopefully such sermonizing can wait until tomorrow out of respect for the dead. However, there is one lesson that I believe we can and must make perfectly clear, even on the anniversary of that dark day. The exigency of mentioning it now stems from its terrible importance at this point in history.
This lesson is that humanity must never cease in renewing our commitment to the worth of innocent life. Destroying it is never justified. Not by an ideology, not by revenge, not by pre-emption, not by an apology. And yet, simply refraining from killing the innocent is not enough. I referred to the "worth” of innocent life, and not simply its “preservation.”
Last night I saw a movie so powerful in its emotional impact that I could not speak for an hour afterwards. Entitled Osama, the movie (which was the first film made in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban) tells the story of a girl whose grandmother suggests that she disguise herself as a boy rather than suffer the existence of being a woman under the Taliban. From the very first shot of the movie, it is clear that a happy ending is not possible.
Thinking about it now, I am filled with sadness that such a government existed so recently…a government that held the lives of women so cheaply. The Taliban represents more than a dictatorship that attempted to smother a glorious and ancient culture. It represents the darkest impulse within each of us: to destroy what we fear, rather than striving towards understanding and the possibility of acceptance.
As we struggle to find a way to honor those who died five years ago, let us cultivate the brightest impulse within us: the impulse to understand, reach out, accept, nurture, and cherish. One might call it more simply: the impulse to love.