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.