The events of September 11, 2001 marked the first time in a long while that we as Americans have been thrown into such an absolute and terrified confusion. At the same time, they also showed the true character of Americans and, indeed, of the world.
This past Wednesday, exactly one year later, the University of Miami held a remarkable commemorative ceremony in the Maurice Gusman Concert Hall. Nearly twenty faculty members representing persuasions from philosophy to architecture gave speeches attempting to make some sense of September 11th and its aftermath in the light of their personal field.
For those who have grown tired of the meaningless “September 11th” propaganda that has enjoyed exceptional circulation in recent weeks, our University’s ceremony proved to be quite refreshing. Every professor dealt with challenging issues and raised complex questions. There was no dodging the bullet, no simple waving of the flag and singing the national anthem amidst roars of applause. Our commemorative ceremony was quiet, pensive, and searching.
Some of the most important issues raised centered on America after the event. Professor Jonathan Simon raised the issue of civil liberties, where the most pressing question seems to be, “How much of our liberty should we sacrifice to gain security?” As Professor Simon stated, this question falsely assumes that liberty and security are two commodities that cannot co-exist.
Moreover, does the government have the right to ask us to give up those civil liberties? As citizens of a country where civil liberties comprise most of our power, that would seem like a dangerous thing to do. Also, if we give them up, how can we be sure that the government will not simply pursue their own economic and political agendas, as is the charge made by some groups against the Bush administration?
Along these lines, Professor Benjamin Bishin raised another crucial question: “Should we feel free to speak out against the government and the policies that it pursues?” Indeed, right now in America, questioning the government seems to be equivalent to saying that we feel no loyalty.
However, in order to be true Americans, we absolutely must still have the freedom to question why the government conducts the war on terrorism in almost perfect secrecy. We must be free to question why the government will not say who they have in custody, or why they have them there. We must be free to openly disagree, if we so choose, with making war on Iraq, or to question the Bush administration’s motives. After all, just because it was a tragedy doesn’t necessarily make any and all government action permissible.
While we strive to maintain our most precious civil liberties as Americans, the most important thing on September 11, 2002 is to simply remember the astounding solidarity of Americans and our supporters around the world one year ago. Amidst all the questioning, we must make sure to never forget that during that moment in history, we were lucky enough to witness humanity as it should be.