By Rita Lasar
When the planes hit the World Trade Center last Sept. 11, my brother Avrame, who was in the North Tower, refused to join the evacuation because he was concerned for the safety of his close friend and fellow worker, a quadriplegic who could not easily leave. So Avrame stayed, hoping that help would arrive. When it didn’t, he and his lifelong associate died together, along with thousands of others innocent New Yorkers.
That day changed my life. It changed the lives of all those who lost loved ones in the towers.
It changed the lives of the relatives of those on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. It changed the lives of hundreds of families who lost loved ones in the Pentagon. And, perhaps to a lesser extent, it changed the lives of most people living in the United States.
In the months after the disaster, I often heard how Sept. 11 changed the world. But I don’t think the attacks changed the world. And to the extent that Americans believe that Sept. 11 changed the world, it is because they don’t know much about the world in which they live.
I have never heard anyone say that the horrific massacres of 1994 in Rwanda – which took more than 500,000 lives – changed the world. Nor have I ever been told that Indonesia’s massacre of 200,000 East Timorese during a 20-year span changed the world. I have not even heard that the daily loss of 8,000 souls in sub-Saharan Africa due to AIDS changed the world.
Were these people less important than my dear brother?
Despite my own personal grief, I must conclude that, in light of these far greater calamities, Sept. 11 did not change the world. What it did, in its own terrible way, was invite Americans to join the world, which is already a very troubled place. The question is whether we will accept that invitation.
Sadly, President Bush has no interest in doing so. He does not want the United States to join, or even cooperate with, the new International Criminal Court. He has also withdrawn the United States from the long-standing Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia, even as India and Pakistan shudder on the verge of nuclear war. He refuses to support international agreements that would alleviate global warming, and he will not seek to ratify the treaty banning land mines, leaving the United States in the company of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, Bush’s “axis of evil.”
And now the president is planning for a war against Iraq. Never mind that Iraq has committed no act of aggression against us that justifies war, that there has been no evidence linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks. Neither does the president seem to care that the world is opposed to an invasion of Iraq.
The international coalition that fought the first Gulf War was cemented by the principle that one country cannot invade another without provocation. Now the White House is poised to dismiss the coalition to launch an unprovoked invasion of Iraq.
An isolated United States is an unsafe country. As Sept. 11 showed, there are no barricades high enough, no bombs big enough, no intelligence sophisticated enough to make America invulnerable.
We Americans have a choice.
We can conclude that we are alone, that we owe the world nothing and that the world owes us everything. This is the assumption implicit in Bush’s “you’re either with us or against us” stance, which is a shortsighted and self-centered philosophy.
Or we can open our eyes and see the abundance of opportunities for making the planet a safer and more just place, by actively participating in international organizations, multilateral treaties and protocols that advocate peace and social equality.
We can no longer afford a go-it-alone approach. If we want the world’s help in getting at the roots of terrorism, we are going to have to start helping the rest of the world. We are going to have to comprehend that there are millions of people around the globe who understand all too well the horror of tragedies like Sept. 11.
When that realization occurs, only then will we glimpse how Sept. 11 changed the world.
Rita Lasar is a founding member of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows (www.peacefultomorrows.org).