Monday, September 12, 2011

Reflections Upon September 11, 2011 from Cairo

Yesterday was September 11. It was the ten year anniversary of that fateful day. I am sure many others are more eloquent on this topic than I am, so I will keep my remarks brief.

Ten years ago on September 11, I had just started my doctorate at the Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard University. I was living in a very cute, if slightly remote beach house in a town called Nahant, outside of Boston. Some workers were doing remodeling repairs on the house. I was home for the day. We had the radio on. I heard the report on the radio. At first, we really thought it was a joke. It was just too difficult to believe that someone could have flown a plane into the twin towers.

We listened to the radio, and finally walked over to a friend's house, where we all sat glued to the television all day. I remember calling all my friends in New York, where I had gone to college, to see if they were safe.

I remember that we had economics class the next day, and the Professor, who was very good, was at a loss for words. I do not really know exactly how 9/11 affected me. However, it affected our family. My sister enlisted in the Army Reserve, and was sent to Guantanamo Bay. I opposed the Gulf War in 1990, and I opposed the one that took place after 9/11.  Although I did not support the war in Iraq, I thank our veterans for their loyal service to their country, and they deserve our respect and admiration.

Living in the Middle East now, I guess one thought that I have is that I wish the People of the Book and the Children of Abraham understood each other better. It goes without saying that my American students rarely know anything about Islam. However, now that I am teaching in Egypt, I realize that my Christian and Muslim students do not know much about each others' religion either.  I wish that Jews, Christians and Muslims could all educate themselves, and each other about their respective religions. Reading the Bible and the Quran carefully, and with an open mind, and a critical lens would be a great start.

Islam is not the problem. Extremism is the problem. There are as many denominations of Islam as there are of Christianity. The people who committed that atrocity were very far out of the mainstream of Islam, and were roundly condemned by religious leaders from their community.

I guess upon this anniversary, I would like to call for religious tolerance, and education. I also think the US should rethink its support for undemocratic regimes like those in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Bahrain. These governments incubate religious extremists, oppress women, suppress democracy, and encourage politically intolerant people, like the hijackers of 9/11. The US should carefully rethink its alliances with these authoritarian governments. 


  1. Dear Dr., I agree with you when you say that people need to know more each other, and I underline the religious tolerance as the main point to me. I state this because I believe that most of the time Christians know about the Muslims and vice verse in terms of religious foundations, but the problem is that facing an extreme situation as 9/11, the all believe and knowledge disappear. Therefore, religious tolerance and critical analysis are the keys to start.

    Second, it is reasonable to affirm that the US should review its politics towards Middle East where it supports undemocratic regimes.

    But, what are the concrete actions?
    For me, it seems like it could let countries decide their destiny by their own as well as manage their internal affairs; that is, the US could apply the principle of non interference in internal affairs of the countries unless when is asked for.


  2. Dear Bernardete

    I agree that countries should decide their own destiny and manage their own internal affairs. I think it is reasonable that the US not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries unless asked. However, a few matters come up. First, who is asking? Was it okay that the rebels asked in Libya, or should it have been Qadaffi who asked. Second, what if US interests are affected, or an ally is attacked, as was the case when Hitler invaded Poland, and then France. Just some thoughts. Yours, WMB