Saturday, 10 September 2011

Ten Years on…

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the terror of 11 September 2001.

This day ten years ago, thousands of lives were brutally put to an end. Millions around the world witnessed the collapse of the twin towers of World Trade Centre in New York. Everyone was shocked.

I still remember how I was overwhelmed by anxiety and astonishment when I watched the news live on television returning home from the evening class. I thought sooner or later someone would declare war on someone else that might plunge the world into another catastrophe comparable to the Third World War. Thank God that my worry did not come true. But its aftermath lingers on, overshadowing not only the United States but the rest of the world.

The consequences of 11 September are much more intense and far-reaching than anyone might have originally expected. They are by no means confined to politics either. As Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has convincingly argued earlier this month (thanks Chris for introducing me to his article), "President George W. Bush's response to the attacks compromised America's basic principles, undermined its economy, and weakened its security." Worse still, the rest of the world seems to have no escape from the spill-over effect of the American blunders.

According to Dr Stiglitz, the global financial tsunami that erupted in 2008 could have been attributed, at least indirectly, to the disastrous decision to wage costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of anti-terrorism: "The wars contributed to America's macroeconomic weaknesses, which exacerbated its deficits and debt burden. Then, as now, disruption in the Middle East led to higher oil prices, forcing Americans to spend money on oil imports that they otherwise could have spent buying goods produced in the US.

"But then the US Federal Reserve hid these weaknesses by engineering a housing bubble that led to a consumption boom. It will take years to overcome the excessive indebtedness and real-estate overhang that resulted."

Essentially, all of us living in this world have to pay a price for the aftermath of 11 September, in one way or another, more or less.

Today Pope Benedict XVI has also published a letter to the Archbishop of New York, expressing his condolence and prayers for the victims. What seems more interesting is that there are signs of his disapproval of the anti-terrorist endeavours of the United States between the lines, "The tragedy of that day is compounded by the perpetrators' claim to be acting in God's name. Once again, it must be unequivocally stated that no circumstances can ever justify acts of terrorism. Every human life is precious in God's sight and no effort should be spared in the attempt to promote throughout the world a genuine respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of individuals and peoples everywhere."

Notwithstanding the bloody history of the Crusades and countless violent clashes between some Christians and Muslims over the past millennium, the Pope's words are by all means comforting and inspiring. Monotheism in the twenty-first century, I believe, must cease to insist on absolutism but show more respect and tolerance for diversity, a reality that has existed as long as human history anyway. High-sounding and even unrealistic it may seem for sceptics, the Pope's emphasis on universal love and respect, I'm convinced, remains the ultimate prescription to all conflicts and hostilities.

Speaking in cultural terms, perhaps this is also why East Asian philosophies such as Daoism and Buddhism have gained increasing favour among Westerners in recent years. Both Daoism and Buddhism, as far as I know, tend to emphasise more on recurrence, relativity and universal equity. Unlike monotheism that promotes unquestionable loyalty to one single authority, Daoism and Buddhism help promote greater respect and tolerance for difference and deviation as an undeniable and unchangeable fact of existence. In an increasingly sophisticated world where people of various cultures and backgrounds run into each other more frequently and inevitably, mutual respect and tolerance are simply indispensable.

Perhaps this should be the best moral lesson to be learnt from the 11 September tragedy.


  1. Anonymous10:00 am

    Great article!

    Now, two cents for my opinion:

    9-11 is a tragedy.
    The consequence is not entirely negative.
    The Taliban in Afghanistan was overthrown, a regime that was so oppressive, especially to the women over there.
    Ossma bin Laden was killed and I will drink to that. The US and its allies should continue to hunt the rest down.
    There is a difference between aggressive behavior towards innocent people and fanatics who kill indiscrimatory.

    9-11 was not JUST due to American arrogance, though it did play a part. There will always be conflict between the most powerful (and hence getting the most of everything) and the rest. I am not saying this is right, but this is a fact of life. If there is no USA, another hegemony will take its place.
    We should never bow to evil, even if we may have to pay a heavy price.

  2. Sure, consequences are always mixed, depending on which perspective you are taking. The collapse of Taliban might be worth celebration, but what comes in its place is equally important - if we do care about the well-being of fellow human beings living in the most remote corners of this world.
    Of course we should not bow to evil, but the key question is how. To me, an eye for an eye doesn't seem right. I'm not sure if there are better ways of sorting things out, but it seems the United States have opted for a convenient route that costs both itself and the rest of us dearly. This is why I have doubts about it.

  3. Anonymous4:16 pm

    At least, the US should not attack Iraq (Afghanistan is a somewhat different matter).
    But in any case, the US is one of the (if not THE) warlike nation on earth. It NEEDs wars to keep on going, and to train and test its armed forces. One of the side products of these two wars was that the US armed forces are very different from that two decades ago, much more flexible, lethal and LESS costy in operation. It is the ONLY major military force that has been repeatedly tried out in war.
    The American economy was affected by the two wars (and even more so by the corruption and benefit channelling of the Bush administration). But the major woe is still the over-spending behavior of the US people, Even without the two wars, the US economy will still collapse, sooner or later.
    Obama did not seem to do much. But his insistence in introducing the Medical Deal has helped a lot of the undertrodden. Let us hope that the conservative, particularly the Tea Party, will not gain absolute upper hand in the next election. Things will be much worse if that happens to tbe case.

  4. I think Dr Stiglitz may not have any intention to overstate the grave consequences of 11 September and the anti-terrorism wars, but the financial burden definitely adds further pressure on the fragile economy. The Americans have to pay for what they have done, and in this globalised world even we have little to do with them, we have to share the bill too.
    I'm not familiar with US politics, but it seems to me that there is little President Obama can do, perhaps in one way or another similar to the case of Premier Wen Jiabao in China. What we witnessed some time ago about the debate on the credit limit is little better than a tug-of-war with some stubborn and naughty children. There is little hope to convince them, and they would just seize every opportunity to take advantage of you.


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