On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States of America was attacked by 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists. America’s sense of peace and security was shattered, as was the feeling in much of the Western world that we were safe from attacks or harm.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, there seemed to be a feeling that we were invincible. Wars and conflicts would be left to other parts of the world, and we could sit back and enjoy ever-growing levels of wealth and prosperity.
In an instant 9/11 ended these assumptions. It was made clear that nowhere on Earth was immune from danger or war. It was also made clear, most notably in the compassionate actions of the citizens in Gander, Newfoundland, Canadians were a kind hearted and generous people and nothing could alter that.
As time passes, there is always the risk that the lessons of Sept. 11 will be forgotten. It is tempting to believe that 9/11 was simply an aberration. The truth is much different. There are still groups and individuals who fundamentally oppose our way of life. In Canada, and much of the world, we believe in the ideals of democracy and economic freedom, but these values are not universally shared; sometimes we have to fight for them.
Because we solve our differences peacefully here at home, we have an aversion to armed conflict. As 9/11 showed, however, even innocent people in peaceful societies can be the victims of violence and terrorism. To ignore this threat and to pretend it doesn’t exist only invites further attacks and further danger. Since that awful day, Canada has stepped up to the plate and done what is necessary to both protect our people and remove the conditions that allow violent ideologies to prosper.
Since 9/11, the response of the Western world, specifically in Afghanistan, has been helpful in countering the ideology of the extremists. While much of the media focus is rightfully on the deaths of soldiers and civilians in violent clashes and bombings, behind the scenes schools are being constructed, new hospitals are opening their doors and an entire generation of Afghan women are getting the opportunity to learn and live freely.
The response of the Western world has shown us to be a mature society when it really counts. We did not simply bomb Afghanistan and then leave. We pushed the Taliban out of power and stayed to give the people of Afghanistan hope for a brighter future. While things have not always gone perfectly, our commitment showed that we would not allow the attacks of 9/11 to change our fundamental values.
The world is still a divided place. Military strength is still necessary in order to ensure peace and security. As much as we hope for peace, we may face the day when war comes to our shores and threatens the innocent. The key lesson of Sept. 11 is that even in the face of terror and suffering, the deepest values of our country and civilization cannot ever be shaken or destroyed.
Spencer Fernando is the comment editor for the Manitoban.