S eptember 11, 2001, will be among those dates that mark the end of one era and the beginning of a new era. Our culture has not undergone dramatic shifts, but it has changed. Only time will tell the long-term results of the attacks on us as a people and on the history of our nation and the world. Yet even one short year after the event, some lessons and new directions are clear. Ten is, admittedly, an arbitrary number. Think of these as a beginning as you consider the results of the world-changing events on that September morning.
1. We live in a very dangerous world.
On September 11 Americans learned what most people across the world already knew: the world is a very dangerous place. The United States has, in the past, been safe territory. Two broad oceans guard us, and our neighbors to the north and south are unlikely to invade.
Globalization has made global communication and global travel an everyday part of life. Globalization has also created a whole class of what Thomas Friedman calls "super-empowered angry men," who through global communication and global travel have easy access to our country. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 constituted successful acts of war perpetrated in two of our major cities using our own commercial airliners. The violence "over there somewhere" came in the front door.
Because this is a very dangerous world, and because globalization makes the United States vulnerable to super-empowered angry men, we must pay attention to the world. Americans can no longer afford the luxury of not knowing or caring about what goes on beyond our borders. Our lives depend on paying attention to our very dangerous world.
2. The "clash of civilizations" is a fact of life.
There is a naïve and dangerous assumption that other people are just like us. This assumption is wrong. The culture of the West, while no longer Christian, nonetheless springs from the Christian civilization of Europe and still maintains certain values from that civilization. The culture of the Muslim world is radically different and, in fact, opposes the Christian-inspired culture of the West. Muslims take this clash of civilization for granted; we in the West do not.
In his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, Samuel Huntington writes:
Whatever their political or religious opinions, Muslims agree that basic differences exist between their culture and the Western culture. "The bottom line," as Sheik Ghanoushi put it, "is that our societies are based on values other than those of the West."
For example, we in the West take religious and political freedom for granted. The core of Islamic civilization does not. The very word Islam means submission. Islam is submission to Allah and submission to Allah's law as revealed to humanity through the prophet Muhammad. While Muslim scholars disagree on particulars, Islam is founded on the notion that God has an unchanging will expressed in laws that govern human life. Those laws include stipulations about government and politics and make religion the prominent voice in those areas.
Similarly, that parents approve of their child's choice to be a suicide bomber is not an indication that the parents are unbalanced or immoral. Rather it is an indication that ideas have consequences. The ideas that gave rise to the West are in opposition to those that gave rise to Islamic civilization—we should expect vastly different consequences. A vague cultural ecumenism will not meet the challenge. In the clash of civilizations, we must take sides.